Kasi Lemmons

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Kasi Lemmons
Born Karen Lemmons
(1961-02-24) February 24, 1961 (age 54)
St. Louis, Missouri, US
Occupation Actress/director
Years active 1979–present
Spouse(s) Vondie Curtis-Hall (1995–present); 2 children

Kasi Lemmons (born Karen Lemmons on February 24, 1961[1]) is an American film director and actress, most notable for her work on the films Eve's Bayou, The Caveman's Valentine and Talk to Me.[2] She was described by film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon as "an ongoing testament to the creative possibilities of film".[3]

Early life[edit]

Lemmons was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a poet/psychotherapist mother and a biology teacher father.[1] When Lemmons was eight years old, her parents divorced, and she and her mother and two sisters moved to Newton, Massachusetts. Her mother remarried when she was nine.[4] Her passion for movies came at an early age, but becoming a director was her goal. "I wanted to do something more meaningful than going to auditions…”.[5]



In 1979, Lemmons made her acting debut in the television movie 11th Victim (1979). She performed with the Boston Children’s Theater at a young age and later attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She then transferred to University of California, Los Angeles to major in history. However, she eventually left U.C.L.A. and enrolled in the film program at the New School for Social Research.[6] As a young child, Lemmons got her first role on TV on a local soap opera called You Got a Right, a courtroom drama. She played the first and only black girl who integrated to an all-white school.[7] Her acting credits include episodic parts on shows like As the World Turns, Murder, She Wrote, The Cosby Show or ER and films such as Spike Lee's School Daze (1988), Vampire's Kiss (1988), the Academy Award winner for Best Picture The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Candyman (1992), Hard Target (1993), Fear of a Black Hat (1993), Gridlock'd (1997) and 'Til There Was You (1997).


In 1997, Lemmons directed the film Eve's Bayou starring Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, and Jurnee Smollett. Lemmons wrote a narrative that wove together family drama in the story of a ten-year-old girl and her family.[8] She created and directed the movie with an intentional use of universal significance. The movie is told by Eve, the main character who begins the movie in retrospective to the summer before when she notes, "Memory is a selection of images…some elusive, some printed indelibly on the brain the summer I killed my father, I was ten years old."[8] Lemmons' friend gave some insight on the film, saying that it would be something really strong that grabs you at the beginning. The movie expresses certain themes and promotes an ambiance of mystery, sultry eroticism, and passion that transforms the characters throughout the movie. The film was not meant to be based on African-American film work; however, it was meant to perceive human relationships in a different way. It attracted more white audiences than black.[8] Lemmons expressed in an interview with the Washington Post that the movie was about "friendship". The theme of following your dreams is prominent, and in the movie, the dreams are invested in another person. "It's a story about activism and politics and community and how those things intersect. It's a story about a man who had a voice that inspired…"[9] The casting for Talk to Me was done by Lemmons as well. She specifically wanted Don Cheadle to be in her movie. She felt that Martin Sheen would fitting for the role of E. G. Sonderling, who was the head of the radio station. "He has the perfect balance of cool and conservative that we needed for the character and he's wonderful in the movie."[9] She also selected Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer, and Taraji Henson, the female lead, as actors for the movie. She had the opportunity to cast her husband, Vondie Curtis-Hall.

The film was well-received among critics (currently holding an 80% rate of approval on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes[10]) and won Lemmons an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature as well as a National Board of Review award for Outstanding Directorial Debut.[11]

In 2001 she directed Samuel L. Jackson in the film The Caveman’s Valentine.[6] The story line of this second film is about a homeless man whose effort was to solve a murder mystery. It involves "unexplained ambiguities surrounding him that include moth seraphs that emerge from dancers and forceful rays that are emitted from the Chrysler Building, home of his imaginary arch enemy."[12] Although Lemmons’ presence as a director was evident, this film was deemed a failure. Lemmons addresses the failure in an interview with Alexander, saying that compared to Eve's Bayou, the two movies are different and complicated they cannot be compared. She tells the Alexander that it was rebellious movie due to her success in the other movie.

In 2002 Lemmons conceived and helmed the tribute to Sidney Poitier for the 74th Annual Academy Award show. Shortly afterwards it was announced that Lemmons would direct The Battle of Cloverfield, a supernatural thriller about a small Southern town that becomes haunted by its ghosts, from her own script for producer Laura Ziskin and Columbia Pictures.[6]

In 2007 Lemmons directed the movie Talk to Me about an ex-con (played by Don Cheadle) who became a popular talk show host and community activist. The film and the actors were the target of much praise[13][14] and Lemmons herself won an Image Award for Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture.

Lemmons adapted Broadway musical Black Nativity which was filmed in 2013 starring Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson as well as Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett.[15]

Lemmons is also attached to direct the Apartheid-set drama Agaat, based on Marlene van Niekerk's novel,[16] in addition to an adaptation of Zadie Smith's best-selling novel On Beauty.[17]

In an interview, Lemmons explained that she considered writing to be central to her task as a director:

I've been writing scripts all the time, pretty much every day for fourteen years.... I have to write scripts, because that's the only way I can write parts that will get a lot of people whom I really want to work with involved.

—Kasi Lemmons, 2006[18]

Personal life[edit]

Lemmons has been married to actor and director Vondie Curtis-Hall since 1995. The couple have a son, Henry Hunter (born 1996), and a daughter, Zora (1999). Lemmons states that her husband is immensely supportive and feels that he is more relaxed than she is. Compared to how he works, she prefers the pressure of working on a set with the actors. As a director and a mother, Lemmons says that it gives her perspective. Her life outside of the movie set and Hollywood has kept her grounded. Though she is a Black woman, Lemmons identifies herself as an artist first and foremost in her career. “…I don't wake up every day saying I'm a Black woman because it's too given, but I wake up every day feeling like an artist and I feel I'm an artist."[19]


As director[edit]

As actress[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, George. Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. Harlem Moon. 2003.
  • Bergman, Anne. "An Affinity for the Road Less Traveled". Movie Directors, Los Angeles Times. March 21, 2001.
  • Hurd, Mary G. Women Directors and their Films, Praeger Publishers, 2007.


  1. ^ a b Kasi Lemmons Biography (1961?-)
  2. ^ Bergman, Anne. "An Affinity for the Road Less Traveled". Movie Directors, Los Angeles Times. March 21, 2001.
  3. ^ Wheeler Winston Dixon, Rutgers University Press, Jul 11, 2007, Film Talk: Directors at Work, Retrieved November 10, 2014 (see page xii Introduction, last paragraph), ISBN 978-0-8135-4077-1
  4. ^ Cynthia Fuchs, "Caveman's Valentine: I Just Like to Stir It Up a Little – Interview with Kasi Lemmons", Nitrate Online, March 9, 2001.
  5. ^ Alexander, George. Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. Harlem Moon. 2003, p. 255.
  6. ^ a b c "Kasi Lemmons", Mahogany Cafe.
  7. ^ Alexander (2003), p. 254.
  8. ^ a b c Hurd, Mary G. Women Directors and their Films, Praeger Publishers, 2007, p. 137.
  9. ^ a b http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/discussion/2006/07/31/DI2006073100713.html
  10. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/eves_bayou/
  11. ^ Awards for Eve's Bayou at the Internet Movie Database
  12. ^ Hurd (2007), p. 138.
  13. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/talk_to_me/
  14. ^ Awards for Talk to Me at the Internet Movie Database
  15. ^ http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/forest-whitaker-now-attached-to-star-in-kasi-lemmons-black-nativity-musical
  16. ^ http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kasi-lemmons-direct-apartheid-novel-384008
  17. ^ http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/kasi-lemmons-set-to-helm-on-beauty-based-on-zadie-smith-novel
  18. ^ Wheeler Winston Dixon, Rutgers University Press, Jul 11, 2007, Film Talk: Directors at Work, Retrieved November 10, 2014 (see page 195), ISBN 978-0-8135-4077-1
  19. ^ Alexander (2003), p. 271.

External links[edit]