Trailblazers in Film and TV: Writer-Director, Kasi Lemmons

In honor of Black History Month, Sade' Sellers gives us a look behind writer-director Kasi Lemmons' luminous and groundbreaking career.
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Happy Black History Month, Script Magazine readers! I am honored to be able to reach out to you and share some of my personal tips, tricks, and trade secrets.

A little background about me, I am a horror screenwriter based out of Burbank, California—the media capital of the world! I am also the writer of 2019’s Deadly Dispatch, a thriller feature from the TvOne Network. In my spare time, I run a non-profit organization called The Social Ripple Effect, which aims to combat misinformation in politics.

Now that we’ve been properly introduced, let’s get to it. In honor of Black History Month, I want to introduce you all to one of my favorite pioneer Black filmmakers, Kasi Lemmons.

KasiLemmons-Script2021

Some of you know Kasi from 1992’s Candyman, where she played loyal bestie and college student, Bernadette. What most of you reading this won’t know is that Kasi has gone on to have a luminous career behind the camera. It started with her debut feature, Eve’s Bayou starring Meagan Good (The Intruder) Jurnee Smollet (Lovecraft Country), and Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers). It’s a harrowing tale of the Black experience in a southern gothic horror setting. Lemmons both directed and wrote the project, which has since become a cult classic in the Black horror community.

Eve's Bayou, Trimark Pictures

Eve's Bayou, Trimark Pictures

From there, Lemmons was careful at selecting her projects, primarily choosing to work on films she could write and direct. She once said in an interview with Wheeler Winston Dixon for Film Talk: Directors at Work, about writing, "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." 

Just last year, Lemmons directed the harrowing trust story of Harriet Tubman titled, Harriet, starring Cynthia Ervio-- which led to Erivo’s first Oscar nomination. The film opened to rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.

Kasi Lemmons on the set of "Harriet", Focus Features

Kasi Lemmons on the set of "Harriet", Focus Features

Prior to her career behind the camera, Lemmons was quite the busy actress, appearing in films such as The Equalizer, School Daze, and The Silence of the Lambs.

In the book Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema, Lemmons is quoted as stating, “I don’t wake up every day saying, ‘I’m a Black woman’ because that’s too given, but I wake up every day feeling like an artist and I feel like I’m an artist.”

[Directing for Writers: Me, Direct? Yup, You!]

Features aren’t the only place Lemmons shines, she also dips into the television directing pool, having helmed episodes for projects such as Luke Cage, Shots Fired, and Self Made: Inspired by the life of Madam C.J. Walker. It’s no wonder Lemmons sees herself as an artist…she is! Her ability to jump in front of the camera, then back behind the camera makes her one of the greatest filmmakers in our industry.

Kasi Lemmons

Kasi Lemmons

I am a strong proponent on giving people their flowers while they can still collect them. We’ve lost so many great Black artists within a year, including the marvelous Cicely Tyson and the extraordinary Chadwick Bosman. I encourage everyone reading this to take a glance back at Kasi Lemmons’ small but powerful body of work and give her the praise she deserves while you still can. Filmmaking, especially screenwriting, is a strenuous and oftentimes lonely medium. It takes a true love of the craft to be able to last twenty years in the business, which is why when you watch a Kasi Lemmons film, you can feel that passion through the screen. 


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