Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Women in Film Blogathon Part II: Kasi Lemmons

If you're familiar with Hitchcock's World, you know that John churns out blogathons left and right. Therefore, it should be no surprise that he's at it again. This one is a sequel to one he did earlier this year, Women in Film. For that one, all about strong female characters, I added a dash of color to the proceedings and posted about Troy Carmichael from Spike Lee's Crooklyn. For part two, we move from in front of the camera to behind it.  This time, it's all about female directors. The actual full name of this thing, by the way, is Women in Film Blogathon Part II: The Director's Chair. Cool. However, before I jump in, John did give me some rules to abide by:

  1. Only one director per post. However, if you wish you can do multiple submissions covering different directors.
  2. Try not to focus too much on one particular film by your chosen director. For instance if you're writing about Kathryn Bigelow please don't just send me a review of The Hurt Locker. You don't have to go through their entire filmography but you should discuss enough of their movies to demonstrate an understanding of their style.
  3. You can pick a director from any time period or any country you wish.
  4. Include the above banner in your entry.

No problem. Let's just get down to giving some ladies their props.

Props. Do the cool kids still say that? Probably not. Moving on...

I'm sure a number of you saw the title of this post and said "What's a Kasi Lemmons?" She's an African-American director who actually has far more acting credits to her name than directing. Take a closer look at that face above. There's a good chance you've seen her in something. She played Agent Ardelia Mapp in the classic The Silence of the Lambs. In Candyman, she was best friend Bernadette. Before playing in either of those, she was Jackie, the love interest of Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss. Lemmons also had roles in Spike Lee's School Daze, Robert Townsend's The Five Heartbeats, and Gridlock'd which featured three stirring performances by Tim Roth, Thandie Newton, and the immortal Tupac Shakur. In addition to these, she's done a healthy amount of guest spots on TV, going back as far as Spencer for Hire.

This isn't about her acting, but her directing. Admittedly, she is not the most prolific director. Over a span of seventeen years since making her debut feature as a director, 1997's Eve's Bayou, she's only helmed four movies. However, to each project she brings a welcome ambition and the ability to let her characters breathe. That said, she's not perfect. Here's my brief thoughts on her filmography.

Eve's Bayou
Eve, played by Jurnee Smollett, is a young girl who begins the movie by telling us that she killed her father when she was ten years old. From there, it's all about familial relationships, and more importantly, the ways in which memory can be distorted. The cast features Samuel L. Jackson as that dad. It also includes Diahann Carroll, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, a very young Meagan Good, and Lemmons real-life husband Vondie Curtis-Hall. As far as I'm concerned, this one is downright brilliant. To back me up, it won Lemmons the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and was the highest grossing independent film of 1997. It was also nominated for, and probably should have won Outstanding Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards. Laughably, Soul Food beat out four far better movies for the award: Eve's Bayou, Amistad, Rosewood, and Love Jones. Sigh.

The Caveman's Valentine
Lemmons reunites with Samuel L. Jackson for the story of Romulus, a homeless guy who once studied at Julliard but is current suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Somehow, he finds himself investigating a murder. Truth told, I haven't seen this one, but I do plan to do so and post a review in the coming weeks (probably in January). Reviews haven't been too kind to it, though. the basic consensus is that it's too ambitious for its own good. Okay, I'll bite and let you know what I think.

Talk to Me
This one is a biopic about Washington D.C. radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene, played brilliantly by Don Cheadle. Greene was an ex-con who became a huge success on radio and also had a promising career as a stand-up comedian and talk show host. Not merely content with telling Petey's story, it also becomes a bromance between our hero and bestest buddy Dewey Hughes played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Regardless of what I eventually think of The Caveman's Valentine, this one is big-time winner, in my book. It's a lively romp that takes a look at not just one man's transformation, but also at that of society as much of the movie takes place within the time frame right before and right after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. For this, Lemmons was awarded Best Director by the African American Film Critics and Outstanding Director in a Motion Picture by the NAACP Image Awards. It's cast was also honored nicely. Cheadle and Ejiofor won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, from the African American Film Critics with Ejiofor also winning Best Supporting Male at the Independent Spirit Awards. Cheadle was nominated at the same awards for Best Male Lead while both men, plus all received acting nominations from the NAACP. The entire cast was honored by taking home Best Ensemble at the Gotham Awards.

Black Nativity
If there is one true dud in Lemmons' filmography, this is it. Black Nativity tells the story of a teenage boy from Baltimore sent to live with grandparents he never met in New York after his mom gets evicted. It's a musical based on a play by one of the most important poets in American history, Langston Hughes. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out too well. There are a couple of silver linings, here. One is that Angela Bassett still managed to snag an Image Award from the NAACP. By the way, the cast also features Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese Gibson, and of course, her hubby. The other is that history has shown that after a misstep, Lemmons rebounds in a major way. Therefore, I'm anxiously awaiting her next movie. By the way, since this is a Christmas movie, I'll actually be posting a full review of this in the next two weeks.

With hubby

Thanks to John, once again, for giving me a chance to shine a light on a wonderful woman in film. After all, female directors are rare enough. Black female directors are rarer, still. I'm proud that Lemmons has achieved some successes as such throughout her career. Hopefully, this will inspire some of you to check out her work from the director's chair and to be on the lookout for her future projects. Finally, it's important to note that even though she is fully cognizant of her skin color, she doesn't let that define her. Rather than go on pontificating on what that means, I'll leave you with some of her own words...

"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."


  1. Wow, I've never heard of Kasi Lemmons before, which is odd considering I've seen at least two films she acted in. This does add some nice racial diversity.

    1. She's one of those folks who has been around forever, but most people don't know by name. As an actress she mostly played sidekick type roles and as a director she takes a long time between projects. Neither helps with her name recognition. Still, she is talented and deserves to have her movies seen.

  2. Kasi Lemmons is someone I have heard of as I love Eve's Bayou as well as Talk to Me. The Caveman's Valentine was quite weird but I kinda liked the the film for being weird.

    1. Glad you enjoy her work. I'm looking forward to The Caveman's Valentine. It sounds quite interesting.

  3. I haven't heard of her, but she will definitely be on my radar now. I'm off to look up Eve's Bayou.