Kasi Lemmons

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Kasi Lemmons
Karen Lemmons

(1961-02-24) February 24, 1961 (age 60)[1]
OccupationActress, film director, writer
Years active1979–present
(m. 1995)

Kasi Lemmons (/ˈksi/;[2] born Karen Lemmons; February 24, 1961) is an American film director and actress.

She began her career with roles in commercials with McDonald's and Levis, then she moved to the small screen with shows such as 11th Victim (1979) and then moved to the big screen in Spike Lee's School Daze (1988), followed by the comedy Vampire's Kiss (1989), before being cast as Ardelia Mapp in Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991). She subsequently co-starred with Virginia Madsen in the horror film Candyman (1992).

Lemmons made her directorial debut with 1997's Eve's Bayou, followed by Dr. Hugo (1998), The Caveman's Valentine (2001), Talk to Me (2007), Black Nativity (2013), and her highest-grossing film, 2019's Harriet, about abolitionist Harriet Tubman.[3] She was described by film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon as "an ongoing testament to the creative possibilities of film."[4]

Lemmons adapted the novel Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles Blow into an opera libretto for the composer Terence Blanchard. It was premiered by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis on 15 June 2019.

Early life[edit]

Lemmons was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Dorothy Othello (Stallworth) and Milton Francis Lemmons.[5] Her father was a biology teacher and her mother was a counselor and then became a psychologist.[6] When she was eight years old, her parents divorced, and she and her mother and two sisters moved to Newton, Massachusetts, because her mother wanted to go to Harvard to get her doctorate in education.[6] Her mother remarried when she was nine.[7]

Lemmons went to Commonwealth School, a small private high school in Boston, Mass. In the summer, she attended the Circle in the Square Program, a program where kids who wanted to be professional actors trained, which was part of New York University's School of Drama. This gave her access to many professional actors’ studios such as Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler.[6]

Lemmons started her film career as an actress and her passion for movies came at an early age, but her goal was to become a director as she states, "I wanted to do something more meaningful than going to auditions…"[8]

As well as attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, UCLA and The New School of Social Research Film Program, Lemmons was awarded an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, from Salem State College in 1998. Currently, she is an Associate Arts Professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[9]



In 1979, Lemmons made her acting debut in the television movie 11th Victim (1979). She performed with the Boston Children's Theater and later attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts but transferred to UCLA to major in history. She eventually left UCLA and enrolled in the film program at the New School for Social Research.[10] As a young child, she 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.[11] 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).[12]


In 1997, Lemmons directed the film Eve's Bayou starring Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, and Jurnee Smollett.[13] Lemmons had begun to write the screenplay for Eve's Bayou in 1992. This was the first screenplay that she had written by herself. To convince studios that she could direct Eve's Bayou, she filmed Dr. Hugo, a short film based on a section of the script of Eve's Bayou.[6] The film was well-received among critics (currently holding an 80% rate of approval on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes[14]) and won Lemmons an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature as well as a National Board of Review award for Outstanding Directorial Debut.[15] It was the highest-grossing independent film in 1997.[9]

In 2001 she directed Jackson again in The Caveman's Valentine[10] about a schizophrenic homeless man trying to solve a murder mystery.[16] 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, from her own script for Columbia Pictures.[10]

In 2007, she directed Talk to Me that was centered around the television personality and activist Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene Jr. that was played by Don Cheadle.[17] For the film Talk to Me (2007 film), Lemmons received the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture and was named as Best Director by the African-American Film Critics Association.[18] In a 2007 interview with FF2 Media's Jan Lisa Huttner, Lemmons said Talk to Me "became a film about a time when change was possible and even revolution was possible. We didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a very devastating time and a very frightening time, but it was alive. It was alive."[19]

Lemmons adapted the Broadway musical Black Nativity and filmed it in 2013. It starred Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson, as well as Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett.[20]

Lemmons's 2019 film Harriet, a biographical film about Harriet Tubman, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Its star, Cynthia Erivo, was nominated for an Academy Award.[21] Lemmons said to the Los Angeles Times about her research for Harriet: “All the elements of a great adventure film are right there in the Harriet Tubman story. It’s about a woman who was running a whole lot of her life so action did not have to be imposed. It’s inherent. The jeopardy, the movement, the courage, that’s all inherent and we wanted to let that play out on screen because we need our female hero stories. This one is about a tiny black woman who did incredible things.”

Lemmons explained during an interview 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."[22]


Lemmons has worked extensively as a mentor and educator. For the past 14 years she has been a board member of Film Independent and has contributed to Film Independent's Filmmaker Labs as a speaker and moderator. She also continues to serve as an advisor to the Sundance Screenwriter and Filmmaker Labs. Guest lecturing and speaking engagements include Yale University, Columbia Film School, MIT, UCLA, USC, The Los Angeles Film School and The University of Pristina Film School in Kosovo. Kasi was Vassar College's 2008 Artist in Residence and in the 2010–2011 academic year, Lemmons was the UCLA Regents’ Lecturer in the School of Theater, Film & Television. She was also the leader/moderator of the AFI curriculum's core class, Narrative Workshop.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Lemmons has been married to actor and director Vondie Curtis-Hall since 1995. The couple have four children.

Lemmons says she is primarily an artist: "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".[23]


As director[edit]

Year Title Notes
1997 Eve's Bayou
1998 Dr. Hugo short film
2001 The Caveman's Valentine
2007 Talk to Me
2013 Black Nativity
2019 Harriet
2020 Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (TV miniseries)

As actress[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1985 Spenser for Hire Lydia Wilson
1988 The Equalizer Zandili
1988 School Daze Perry
1988 Vampire's Kiss Jackie
1989 A Man Called Hawk Lois
1991 The Silence of the Lambs Ardelia Mapp
1991 The Five Heartbeats Cookie
1992 Candyman Bernadette "Bernie" Walsh
1993 Fear of a Black Hat Nina Blackburn
1993 Murder, She Wrote Paula Raynor Episode: "The Survivor"
1993 Hard Target Det. Marie Mitchell
1993 Walker, Texas Ranger Diane Warren Episode: "Night of the Gladiator"
1994 Drop Squad Madonna
1997 'Til There Was You Angenelle
2002 ER Chemo Tech Episode: "It's All In Your Head"
2012 Disconnect Roberta Washington

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1997 NBR Award Outstanding Directorial Debut Eve's Bayou Won
1998 Black Film Award Best Director Won
Independent Spirit Award Best First Feature (Shared with Caldecot Chubb (producer), Samuel L. Jackson (producer)) Won
OFTA Film Award Best First Feature Film Nominated
Palm Springs International Film Festival Director's Achievement Award Herself Won
2007 AAFCA Award Best Director Talk to Me Won
EDA Special Mention Award Best Leap from Actress to Director Nominated
EDA Film Focus Award Best Woman Director Nominated
WFCC Award Best Movie by a Woman (Tied with Sarah Polley for Away from Her (2006)) Won
2008 Image Award Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television) Won
2014 Hollywood Award Best Screenplay Black Nativity Nominated
Black Reel Outstanding Screenplay (Adapted or Original), Motion Picture Nominated
2019 Black Film Critics Circle[24] Best Director Harriet Won
Best Picture Nominated
Mill Valley Film Festival Mind the Gap Award Won
Philadelphia Film Critics Circle Awards Elaine May Award Won
Women Film Critics Circle Awards Best Movie by a Woman Won
Josephine Baker Award Won
Karen Morley Award Won
2020 AARP Movies for Grownups Awards Best Screenwriter Nominated
Black Reel Outstanding Director Nominated
Image Award Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Film) Nominated
Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film) Nominated
Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, George. Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. Harlem Moon. 2003. ISBN 0767911814
  • Bergman, Anne. "An Affinity for the Road Less Traveled". Movie Directors, Los Angeles Times. March 21, 2001.[25]
  • Hurd, Mary G. Women Directors and their Films, Praeger Publishers, 2007. ISBN 0275985784


  1. ^ "Kasi Lemmons Biography". AllMovie. Archived from the original on March 9, 2020.
  2. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 2, 1997). "Interviews: Kasi Lemmons makes powerful debut as director". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on March 9, 2020.
  3. ^ Bergman, Anne. "An Affinity for the Road Less Traveled". Movie Directors, Los Angeles Times. March 21, 2001.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Stated on Finding Your Roots, February 16, 2021
  6. ^ a b c d Dixon, Wheeler Winston (2007). ""Kasi Lemmons: (Eve's Bayou)." Film Talk: Directors at Work". Rutgers University Press: 188–204. JSTOR j.ctt5hhz41.14. – via JSTOR.
  7. ^ "Caveman's Valentine - Interview with Kasi Lemmons - Nitrate Online Feature". www.nitrateonline.com. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  8. ^ Alexander, George. Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. Harlem Moon. 2003, p. 255.
  9. ^ a b c "Kasi Lemmons". Film Independent. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c "Mahogany Cafe". www.mahoganycafe.com. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  11. ^ Alexander (2003), p. 254.
  12. ^ Kasi Lemmons at IMDb
  13. ^ Hurd, Mary G. Women Directors and their Films, Praeger Publishers, 2007, p. 137.
  14. ^ "Eve's Bayou".
  15. ^ Awards for Eve's Bayou at IMDb
  16. ^ Hurd (2007), p. 138.
  17. ^ "'Talk to Me' Director Kasi Lemmons on Petey Greene". NPR.org. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  18. ^ Badley, Linda; Perkins, Claire; Schreiber, Michele; Schreiber, Michele, eds. (November 1, 2016). Indie Reframed. Edinburgh University Press. doi:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474403924.001.0001. ISBN 978-1-4744-0392-4.
  19. ^ "Kasi Lemmons, Sensational Sista". www.films42.com. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  20. ^ "Forest Whitaker now attached to star in Kasi Lemmons musical Black Nativity, blogs.indiewire.com; accessed April 30, 2015.
  21. ^ Harriet, retrieved March 31, 2020
  22. ^ 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
  23. ^ Alexander (2003), p. 271.
  24. ^ "The 2019 Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC) Winners". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  25. ^ "An Affinity for the Road Less Traveled". Los Angeles Times. March 4, 2001. Retrieved December 12, 2019.

External links[edit]