Winner 1999

A Lesson Before Dying

Home Box Office, a Spanky Pictures Production, in association with Ellen M. Krass Productions

In this exceptional teleplay, the acclaimed Ernest J. Gaines novel is vividly brought to life by writer Ann Peacock and a superb acting ensemble (including Don Cheadle, Cicely Tyson, Mekhi Phifer, Brent Jennings and Irma P. Hall) in the skillful hands of accomplished director Joseph Sargent. Set in rural Louisiana in 1947, the story concerns Jefferson (Mekhi Phifer), an African-American youth wrongly accused of killing a white store owner. Deemed by incompetent and disinterested defense attorneys “too stupid to know the crime,” Jefferson is convicted of the murder and sentenced to die. The film focuses on the struggle of a circle of passionate but very different people-the boy’s godmother Miss Emma (Irma P. Hall), her friend Tante Lou (Cicely Tyson), Reverend Ambrose (Brent Jennings) and most of all schoolteacher Grant Wiggins (portrayed with extraordinary impact by Don Cheadle) as they struggle to mend Jefferson’s broken dignity. Torn between the obligations of the past and dreams of a brighter future, Grant Wiggins has returned to teach in the small town where he was raised. He may be optimistic about making a difference in the lives of young people but experience has taught him to hold little hope for Jefferson’s future. In a beautifully crafted conclusion, Jefferson walks to his execution with dignity, while nearby, with tears streaming down his cheeks Grant realizes that he has become the pupil and Jefferson the teacher. For television drama of the highest distinction, a Peabody Award is presented to A Lesson Before Dying.