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20 Nov. 2013

Filmmaker Kasi Lemmons tells a new story

BLACK NATIVITY's filmmaker, Kasi Lemmons

BLACK NATIVITY’s filmmaker, Kasi Lemmons

We were mesmerized by her first major on screen release in 1997, EVE’s BAYOU, the arresting and beguilingBLACK NATIVITY poster, 0305B63E-AB57-4578-BDF8-DBCE0EFECA18 drama about the southern ways of an aristocratic black family—the film that introduced Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Meagan Good—led by Samuel L. Jackson, cast as a doting father, quasi-revered local physician with an untenable bedside manner.

From there, celebrated and award-winning film director Kasi Lemmons shed light on the famed east coast legend of “Petey” Green, a Washington, DC-based, slick-talking, ex-con, radio personality and community activist in TALK TO ME with Oscar nominees Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Taraji Henson (Benjamin Button)and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave).  EVE's Bayou poster

In between, she forged relationships with indy filmmakers and serves on the board of Film Independent, producers of the Spirit Awards held annually at the Santa Monica Beach on the eve of the Oscars.

Prior to turning her attention to writing screenplays and directing them, Lemmons, the 52-year-old, St. Louis native appeared in front of the camera with acting credits in numerous films, among them, Spike Lee’s SCHOOL DAZE, Robert Townsend’s THE FIVE HEARTBEATS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and GRIDLOCK’D, directed by her husband, actor Vondie Curtis-Hall (Die Hard 2,

Lemmons with husband, actor/director/producer Vondie Curtis-Hall

Lemmons with husband, actor/director/producer Vondie Curtis-Hall

Crooklyn, Waist Deep).

Kasi Lemmons shared a glimpse of her creative perspective with me when we sat down in Los Angeles to discuss BLACK NATIVITY–

This film brought many acclaimed people together, particularly Raphael Saadiq, the music producer.

Raphael Saadiq, music producer

Raphael Saadiq, music producer

“It has been so incredible collaborating with him; one of my favorite things about filmmaking is when I’m at home alone writing with my thoughts but really collaborating.  Once you begin to share your vision with collaborators and bring them into your vision, it’s a special part of the process. Raphael was an incredibly key collaborator on this project, which lives or dies by the music, you know.”

This story, Langston’s Hughes’ Black Nativity, has been entrenched in the hearts and minds of so many for decades. That you, as the filmmaker, would dare to offer something different speaks to your courage to tell a new story. Did it feel as if you were being extraordinarily courageous with this endeavor?

“I don’t overly think about that…as if I’m going to be brave right now; it’s against my nature to do so.  But it is my nature to kind of stir things up and to be unafraid to take on challenges. To me, that’s exciting…continuing to grow and learn, to do something I haven’t done before; that’s one of the things I like about writing and directing.

BLACK NATIVITY's Jacob Latimore with Lemmons

BLACK NATIVITY’s Jacob Latimore with Lemmons

You can never really be great at it; you can only strive to be great and try to work with incredible people that will hopefully foster a greater and greater experience.

To strive to find truth in your work makes me feel like I’m still learning. To work with someone like Rafael was a huge learning process for me to integrate into this movie, how we would do this together. That aspect of making this film has been a huge part of the joy for me.”

To be continued, stay tuned to


About the author

Sandra Varner has had her hands on the pulse of the entertainment industry and lifestyles coverage for decades, staying current, always.


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