Award-Winning Writer-Director Christine Swanson to Helm Drama Based on the Life of Kemba Smith

January 26, 2021

The Moving Picture Institute (MPI) in association with BET announced today that Christine Swanson is attached to write and direct the upcoming feature film inspired by the life of criminal justice reform advocate Kemba Smith. Swanson will also serve as a co-producer.

Swanson most recently directed the record-breaking, smash-hit film The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel, which was 2020’s Best TV Movie award recipient from the African American Film Critics Association and recently nominated for a Critics Choice Award for Best Movie Made for Television. Her other celebrated movie credits include All About You, All About Us, The Miki Howard Story, To Hell and Back, and For the Love of Ruth, for which she earned an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Directing in a Television Motion Picture. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Film from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“When I heard Kemba Smith’s story and her extraordinary battle with an unjust legal system that harshly punished first time non-violent, low level offenders, I was struck by a story of perseverance and determination as well as one of strength of our Black institutions like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that ultimately helped Kemba gain her freedom. I felt a strong connection to Kemba’s commitment to advocacy and deep-seated faith that kept her from giving up when all hope was lost. I am truly humbled and excited to bring to the big screen Kemba’s story and harrowing journey that ultimately led her to her life’s purpose,” said Swanson.

Swanson will work alongside BET and MPI to tell the story of Kemba’s courageous fight for criminal justice and prison reform. At 23 years old, Kemba was charged as a co-conspirator to her abusive college boyfriend’s drug-trafficking crimes and sentenced to 24 and a half years in federal prison with no opportunity for parole. Often labeled the “poster child” for reversing a disturbing trend in the rise of lengthy sentences for first-time, non-violent drug offenders, Kemba had her sentence commuted by President Bill Clinton in December of 2000 after serving six and a half years.

“Kemba Smith’s story is one of inspiration and hope as she continues to advocate for the thousands of others still currently incarcerated,” said Lorisa Bates, BET’s Vice President of Content Strategy, Co-Productions, and Multiplatform. “We are excited to have Christine Swanson bring such a powerful story to life and educate others about the social and political consequences of our nation’s criminal justice system.”

Kemba’s story represents hundreds of women who were harshly sentenced due to the “war on drugs.” Since her release, Kemba has dedicated her life to sharing her story of redemption and resilience in an effort to end mass incarceration and empower women and today’s youth to choose a healthier path in life.

The untitled film will have a theatrical launch, and distribution plans will be announced at a later date. It will have its television premiere on BET. Principal photography is slated to begin in 2021.

From MPI, Stacey Parks, Lana Link, and Rob Pfaltzgraff will produce. Kemba Smith, MPI’s Nick Reid, and BET’s Maureen Guthman and Constance Orlando will executive produce. BET’s Jon Marc Sandifer and Lorisa Bates are co-executive producing alongside Swanson; MPI’s Hannah Earl and BET’s John Baldasare will serve as consulting producers.

Swanson is represented by attorney Nina Shaw.

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