Kasi Lemmons

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Kasi Lemmons
Karen Lemmons

OccupationActress, film director
Years active1979–present

Kasi Lemmons is an American film director and actress. She has directed Eve's Bayou, Dr. Hugo, The Caveman's Valentine, Talk to Me, Black Nativity, and her highest-grossing film, 2019's Harriet, about abolitionist Harriet Tubman.[1] She was described by film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon as "an ongoing testament to the creative possibilities of film."[2]

Early life[edit]

Lemmons was born in St. Louis, Missouri. When she 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.[3] 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…"[4]



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.[5] 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.[6] 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).[7]


In 1997, Lemmons directed the film Eve's Bayou starring Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, and Jurnee Smollett.[8] The film was well-received among critics (currently holding an 80% rate of approval on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes[9]) and won Lemmons an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature as well as a National Board of Review award for Outstanding Directorial Debut.[10]

In 2001 she directed Jackson again in The Caveman's Valentine[5] about a schizophrenic homeless man trying to solve a murder mystery.[11] 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.[5] 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. [12] 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. [13]

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.[14]

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."[15]

Personal life[edit]

Lemmons has been married to actor and director Vondie Curtis-Hall since 1995. The couple has 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".[16]


As director[edit]

Year Title Notes
1997 Eve's Bayou
1998 Dr. Hugo
2001 The Caveman's Valentine
2007 Talk to Me
2013 Black Nativity
2019 Harriet

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[17] 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 Pending
Black Reel Outstanding Director Pending

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. [18]
  • Hurd, Mary G. Women Directors and their Films, Praeger Publishers, 2007. ISBN 0275985784


  1. ^ Bergman, Anne. "An Affinity for the Road Less Traveled". Movie Directors, Los Angeles Times. March 21, 2001.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ "Caveman's Valentine - Interview with Kasi Lemmons - Nitrate Online Feature". www.nitrateonline.com. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  4. ^ Alexander, George. Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. Harlem Moon. 2003, p. 255.
  5. ^ a b c "Mahogany Cafe". www.mahoganycafe.com. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  6. ^ Alexander (2003), p. 254.
  7. ^ Kasi Lemmons on IMDb
  8. ^ Hurd, Mary G. Women Directors and their Films, Praeger Publishers, 2007, p. 137.
  9. ^ "Eve's Bayou".
  10. ^ Awards for Eve's Bayou on IMDb
  11. ^ Hurd (2007), p. 138.
  12. ^ "'Talk to Me' Director Kasi Lemmons on Petey Greene". NPR.org. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Forest Whitaker now attached to star in Kasi Lemmons musical Black Nativity, blogs.indiewire.com; accessed April 30, 2015.
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ Alexander (2003), p. 271.
  17. ^ "The 2019 Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC) Winners". Retrieved December 29, 2019.
  18. ^ "An Affinity for the Road Less Traveled". Los Angeles Times. March 4, 2001. Retrieved December 12, 2019.

External links[edit]