We see her steeliness in work situations. After work, she and other employees frequent a local bar. Bernadine drinks just enough to give her a slight buzz before she goes home. The drinks give her relief from the heavy psychological demands of her daily employment. At home, there's now some emotional distance in her marriage. Her husband, a high school teacher, loves her very much. He sees that she's drifting further and further away from him. She's not fully present in their marriage. One night he snaps that he does not want "an empty shell of a wife."
Her office at work is her prison cell, but she doesn't realize it. With every execution she oversees, a bit of her life, a bit of her soul, leaks out leaving her emptier emotionally and spiritually. This she will have to confront as she prepares for another execution. He was convicted of killing a policeman. The crime made TV news headlines. Outside the prison, people protest the death penalty and his death sentence. Bernadine's emotional fractures will connect her to the man condemned to death.
Alfre Woodard is outstanding in CLEMENCY. She is another of those remarkable actresses of color who got an Oscar nomination and then had to turn to TV soon after the Oscars telecast because Hollywood no other juicy script offers for her. Also in this category are Rita Moreno (Oscar winner, WEST SIDE STORY), Cicely Tyson (Oscar nominee, SOUNDER), Diahann Carroll (Oscar nominee, CLAUDINE), Angela Bassett (Oscar nominee, WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?), Taraji P. Henson (Oscar nominee, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON) and even Whoopi Goldberg (Oscar nominee, THE COLOR PURPLE and Oscar winner, GHOST).
I've been an Alfre Woodard fan ever since I saw her in the Robert Altman social commentary ensemble comedy, HEALTH (1980). Set at a luxury hotel in Florida, there's a health food convention and a political organization election happening at the same time. I was in a movie audience that loved the Black actress who played the overwhelmed public relations director of the hotel. She was comedy gold. I could hear folks in the audience whisper "Who's that girl?" It was newcomer Alfre Woodard in a cast that included Glenda Jackson, Lauren Bacall, Carol Burnett and James Garner.
Woodard played the helper/maid in 1983's CROSS CREEK. Set in Florida in the late 1920s, it's the story of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the woman who wrote THE YEARLING. Mary Steenburgen played Rawlings. Alfre Woodard got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance. Did she get other good Hollywood script offers after her Oscar nomination like Julia Roberts, Amy Adams and Cate Blanchett did? Nope. Alfre turned to TV for steady employment. We saw her on HILL STREET BLUES, AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE productions on PBS, ST. ELSEWHERE and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. She racked up several Emmy nominations for her TV work. I'd love to see Alfre Woodard in the Oscar race again.
For her prison drama, CLEMENCY, director and screenwriter Chinonye Chukwu became the first Black woman to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.