Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu and the cast and producers of the 2019 film “Clemency” were among the honorees at Death Penalty Focus’ 29th annual awards event, which was presented online Thursday.
Public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson received the Rose Elizabeth Bird Commitment to Justice Award, the organization’s highest award, “for a lifelong commitment to justice, courageous leadership in the struggle to end the death penalty, and steadfast advocacy for the dignity of every person,” said Bethany Webb, president of the national nonprofit organization that promotes efforts to abolish the death penalty.
The award is named for the late California chief justice who lost a retention election in 1986 because of her opposition to the death penalty.
Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society
Rabbi Sharon Brous, the founder and senior rabbi of the Los Angeles spiritual community IKAR, received the Human Rights Award “for extraordinary and inspirational leadership in advancing respect for human dignity, social justice, and fundamental human rights,” Webb said.
University of Colorado sociology professor Michael L. Radelet received the Abolition Award “for exemplary leadership and unprecedented commitment to fostering human rights and advancing public awareness about the fundamental injustice of the death penalty,” Webb said.
Radelet has written or edited eight books and some 100 scholarly papers focusing on such problems as erroneous convictions, racial bias and ethical issues faced by health care personnel who are involved in capital cases and executions.
At the request of then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan in 2002, Radelet and Northeastern University criminologist Glenn Pierce completed a study of racial bias in the death penalty in Illinois that Ryan used in his decision in 2003 to commute 167 death sentences.
Chukwu said she was inspired to write the screenplay for “Clemency” because of the protests over the 2011 execution of Troy Davis, who maintained his innocence over the fatal shooting of a police officer working as a security guard. Pope Benedict XVI was among those calling upon the courts to grant Davis a new trial or evidentiary hearing.
“I couldn’t help but wonder — if so many of us struggled with what had happened to Mr. Davis, what about the people who actually had to carry out his execution?” Chukwu said. “What if some of them were also grappling with having to kill this man? Thus, the seed for Clemency was planted.”
“Clemency” stars Alfre Woodard as a prison warden preparing to preside over another execution and is forced to confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates. The film received Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations for best feature, Chukwu’s screenplay and Woodard’s performance.
“Clemency” is streaming on Hulu.