Chinonye Chukwu (/ˈnjə ˈk/ CHEE-noh-yə CHOO-koo;[1] born May 19, 1985[2]) is a Nigerian-American film director best known for the drama films Clemency and Till. She is the first African-American woman to win the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.[2][3]

Chinonye Chukwu
Chukwu in 2019
Born (1985-05-19) May 19, 1985 (age 39)
OccupationFilm director
Years active2010-present
Notable workClemency

Early life and education


Of Igbo heritage, Chukwu was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. When she was just over a year old, her family moved to Oklahoma, and moved again to Fairbanks, Alaska when she was six.[2] They visited Nigeria often.[2]

Growing up in Alaska, Chukwu was often the only African-American in her classes, and she struggled to fit in. Throughout her childhood she dealt with Seasonal affective disorder, which was exacerbated by limited wintertime daylight in Alaska. To cope, she read Maya Angelou and joined the weight-lifting club. Chukwu always wanted to make movies. In her teen years, she carried around a journal that she would write down ideas for films and music videos. She often wrote stories about Nigerian-American girls reconnecting with loves or lost siblings.[2]

She received her bachelor's degree in English from DePauw University, where she joined Zeta Phi Beta.[4] She then enrolled in film school at Temple University.[2]



Chukwu directed The Dance Lesson in 2010, about a young black girl who struggles to become a ballerina in an increasingly gentrified community.[5] Her first feature film, Alaska-Land (2012), told the story of an estranged Nigerian-American brother and sister who eventually reunite in their hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska.[6][2][7] The film was rejected from every festival and lab program she applied to.[6][8] In 2013 she directed A Long Walk (2013), a short film about a child who is publicly ridiculed by his father.[9]

Clemency (2019) was written and directed by Chukwu. The death row drama stars Alfre Woodard as a prison warden coming to terms with the demands of her profession and Aldis Hodge as one of her inmates bound for execution.[10] Her inspiration for the film came from the case of Troy Davis, a prisoner executed in 2011. She moved to Los Angeles in 2017 to shoot the film.[2] She received the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at 2019 Sundance, the first black woman to do so.[11][12]

In 2019, it was reported that Chukwu was slated to direct A Taste Of Power, a film based on the memoir of the same name by Elaine Brown.[13]

Chukwu wrote and directed the 2022 film Till, a biographical film about Mamie Till-Mobley's pursuit of justice after the 1955 lynching of her 14-year-old son Emmett Louis Till.[14]



Short films

Chinonye Chukwu's short film credits
Year Title Writer Director Producer Notes
2009 Igbo Kwenu! Yes Yes Yes
2010 The Dance Lesson Yes Yes Yes Also editor
2011 5 Afternoons No No No Production manager
2012 Bottom Yes Yes Yes Also editor
2013 Dust No No Yes
Mud Lotus No No Yes Also first assistant director
A Long Walk Yes Yes Yes

Feature films

Chinonye Chukwu's feature film credits
Year Title Writer Director Producer Notes
2008 Chronic Town No No No Production assistant
2012 alaskaLand Yes Yes Yes
2013 A Historical Approach to the Positive Music: Jazz in Philadelphia! No No No Documentary; production manager
2019 Clemency Yes Yes No
2022 Till Yes Yes Yes Also executive producer


Chinonye Chukwu's television credits
Year Title Director Notes
2019 Sorry for Your Loss Yes Episode: "I'm Here"

Awards and nominations


The Dance Lesson (2010)



  1. ^ "Chinonye Chukwu - Finding One's Self and Alaskaland". Reelblack. April 27, 2013. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Okeowo, Alexis. "With Clemency, Chinonye Chukwu Has Made the Most Devastating Movie of the Year". Vogue. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Appler, Michael (December 12, 2019). "Chinonye Chukwu on Golden Globes Shutout of Female Directors". Variety. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  4. ^ "Zeta Phi Beta Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu Just Became The First Black Woman to Win Sundance Film Festival's Biggest Prize". Watch The Yard. February 5, 2019. Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  5. ^ The Dance Lesson, retrieved April 14, 2020
  6. ^ a b alaskaLand, retrieved April 14, 2020
  7. ^ Sperling, Nicole. "Clemency Director Chinonye Chukwu on Her Sundance Film About Death Row". Vanity Fair. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  8. ^ Okeowo, Alexis. "With Clemency, Chinonye Chukwu Has Made the Most Devastating Movie of the Year". Vogue. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  9. ^ A Long Walk, retrieved April 14, 2020
  10. ^ Erbland, Kate (January 2, 2020). "How 'Clemency' Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu Turned Her Pain Into the Year's Most Empathetic Film". IndieWire. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  11. ^ Erbland, Kate (February 3, 2019). "Sundance: 'Clemency' Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu Is First Black Woman to Win Biggest Prize". IndieWire. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  12. ^ "Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu On The Making Of 'Clemency'". Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  13. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (January 28, 2019). "'Clemency' Director Chinonye Chukwu To Helm Female Black Panther Drama 'A Taste Of Power:' Sundance". Deadline. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  14. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (August 27, 2020). "Chinonye Chukwu To Helm Film On How Mamie Till Mobley Turned Son Emmett Till's Brutal Murder Into Civil Rights Movement Catalyst; Barbara Broccoli, Whoopi Goldberg Producing". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on August 9, 2021. Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  15. ^ "Chinonye Chukwu". African Film Festival, Inc. March 3, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  16. ^ "20th Annual Black Reel Awards – Nominees Announced". Blackfilm - Black Movies, Television, and Theatre News. December 11, 2019. Archived from the original on December 13, 2019. Retrieved April 20, 2020.