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The story of Prudence & the facts on “Oscar Kanye-gate”


Prudence lives in Zimbabwe, and for a long time almost no one knew about that hauntingly beautiful voice. No one knew the strong, resilient woman that owned it. They were unable to overlook her body: born with a debilitating condition called arthrogryposis.

When Prudence was born, her paternal grandmother wanted her dead. In Zimbabwe, disabled children are sometimes believed to be the result of witchcraft. But Prudence’s mother kept her and fed her and eventually left her at her own mother’s rural home.

Prudence’s grandmother Ncube taught her to sing. A working farmer, she would strap the little girl to her back as she worked the fields.

But when Prudence turned 7, she knew she couldn’t school her. So she sent her to live with her father and his new family. There, Prudence fell prey to neglect and isolation.

Her stepmother refused to touch her, and called her a worthless, helpless “ant.” For two years, Prudence lived like an animal: crawling on the floor and sleeping in her own urine, and worse. Every day, she dragged herself to a mango tree in the backyard, and told herself that her nightmare would end someday.

There is a haven away from this pain: King George VI School & Centre for Children with Physical Disabilities (KG6). Privately funded, KG6 struggles on the brink of destitution. Yet every year, hundreds of children with disabilities blossom and thrive.

Prudence gets a scholarship to KG6, and her new life begins. She gets a wheelchair. She goes to school. She begins singing in earnest.

Music by Prudence tells this self-empowering story of Prudence Mabhena. Overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, Prudence, together with her band, conveys to the world that ‘disability does not mean inability. Her inspiring and irreverent message of hope has received an amazing response from press and audiences across the world, and has won the 2010 Academy Award® for Best Documentary Short and several other awards as it continues drawing in more audiences.

The facts on “Oscar Kanye-gate”

What happened

During the 2010 Oscar telecast, a producer who had had no involvement with the creation of the film for a year, Elinor Burkett, interrupted director and producer Roger Ross Williams’ acceptance speech. It caused a media frenzy. Ms. Burkett had removed herself from the project a year earlier but still retained her credit on the film.

When asked about her involvement with Music by Prudence, Ms. Burkett stated: “I hate to call it my film. I won an Oscar for it, but I had no control over it. He tried to talk, and I decided not to let him.”

The facts

Roger Ross Williams had final-cut of the material from the beginning of the project and asked Ms. Burkett to come on as a producer. Ms. Burkett was not involved with the editorial process of Music by Prudence, while Mr. Williams had complete creative and directorial control over both the content and the editing of the film.

Mr. Williams took a personal risk and self-funded the first shoot in Zimbabwe back in January of 2008 and created a fundraising trailer with Patrick Wright, the film’s co-producer. Mr. Williams retains the copyright of Music by Prudence.

Main Credits

Produced and Directed by
Roger Ross Williams

Director of Photography
Derek Wiesehahn

Edited by
Geeta Gandbhir

Co-producer and
Associate Editor

Patrick Wright



Prudence Mabhena

Farai Mabhande

Energy Maburutse

Marvelous Mbulo

Honest Mupatsi

Tapiwa Nyengera

Goodwell Nzou

Vusani Vuma