Kasi Lemmons (/ˈksi/;[2] born Karen Lemmons, February 24, 1961) is an American film director, screenwriter, and actress. She made her directorial debut with Eve's Bayou (1997), followed by Talk to Me (2007), Black Nativity (2013), Harriet (2019), and Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022).[3] She also directed the Netflix limited series Self Made (2020), and an episode of ABC's Women of the Movement (2022).

Kasi Lemmons
Karen Lemmons

(1961-02-24) February 24, 1961 (age 63)[1]
Occupation(s)Actress, film director, writer
Years active1979–present
(m. 1995)
Children4, including Henry Hunter Hall

She is also known as an actress having started her career with roles in commercials with McDonald's and Levi's. She made her film debut in Spike Lee's School Daze (1988). She continued acting in Vampire's Kiss (1989), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Candyman (1992). She was described by film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon as "an ongoing testament to the creative possibilities of film".[4]

Early life and education


Lemmons was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Dorothy Othello (née Stallworth) and Milton Francis Lemmons.[5] Her father was a biology teacher and her mother was a counselor who later became a psychologist.[6] In a 2021 episode of Finding Your Roots, Lemmons learned that her third-great-grandfather was transported to the United States from Africa in the early-19th century, and that she was a distant relative of actor Kevin Bacon.[5]

Her parents divorced when she was eight years old. Her mother moved the family to Newton, Massachusetts, because her mother wanted to go to Harvard to get her doctorate in education.[6] Her mother remarried when Lemmons was nine.[7] Lemmons attended Commonwealth School, a private high school in Boston. In the summers, she attended the New York University's School of Drama's Circle in the Square Program, which trained children who wanted to be professional actors. Through this program, she gained access to the studios of professional actors such as Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler.[6] Alongside her early interest in movies and acting, Lemmons also harbored an interest in directing.[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.





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.[9] 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.[10] 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).[citation needed]



In 1997, Lemmons directed the film Eve's Bayou starring Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, and Jurnee Smollett.[11] Lemmons began writing the screenplay for Eve's Bayou in 1992. It was the first screenplay 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] Eve's Bayou was well-received among critics (currently holding an 80% rate of approval on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes[12]) and won Lemmons an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature as well as a National Board of Review award for Outstanding Directorial Debut.[citation needed] It was the highest-grossing independent film in 1997.[13]

In 2001 she directed Jackson again in The Caveman's Valentine[9] about a schizophrenic homeless man trying to solve a murder mystery.[14] 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.[9]

In 2007, she directed Talk to Me that was centered around the television personality and activist Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene Jr., played by Don Cheadle.[15] For the 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.[16] 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."[17]

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.[18]

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.[citation needed] 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."[citation needed]

In August 2021, Lemmons was brought on to direct Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody, a Whitney Houston biopic for Sony Pictures, Compelling Pictures and Muse of Fire Productions from a script by Bohemian Rhapsody scribe Anthony McCarten.[19]

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."[20]



Lemmons has worked extensively as a mentor and educator. 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.[13]

She is an Associate Arts Professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[13]



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 June 15, 2019, and opened the 2021–2022 Metropolitan Opera season, becoming that institution's first opera by an African-American composer.[21]

Personal life


Lemmons has been married to actor and director Vondie Curtis-Hall since 1995. The couple have four children, including actor Henry Hunter Hall.[22]

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

Year Title Notes
1996 Dr. Hugo short film
1997 Eve's Bayou
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 Miniseries; 2 episodes
2022 Women of the Movement Episode: "The Last Word"
2022 Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

As actress

Year Title Role Notes
1985 Spenser for Hire Lydia Wilson Episode: "Resurrection"
1988 The Equalizer Zandili Episode: "Day of the Covenant"
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 Override Short film
1994 Drop Squad June Vanderpool
1995 Zooman Grace Television film
1997 Gridlock'd Madonna
1997 'Til There Was You Angenelle
1997 Liars' Dice Teresa
2002 ER Chemo Tech Episode: "It's All In Your Head"
2006 Waist Deep Angry Black Woman
2012 Disconnect Roberta Washington

Awards and nominations

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 Samuel L. Jackson (producer), Caldecot Chubb (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

  • Alexander, George. Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. Harlem Moon. 2003. ISBN 0767911814
  • 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. Retrieved 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. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  3. ^ Bergman, Anne (March 4, 2001). "An Affinity for the Road Less Traveled". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 28, 2023.
  4. ^ Dixon, Wheeler Winston (2007). Film Talk: Directors at Work. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. xii. ISBN 9780813540771. OCLC 71812805.
  5. ^ a b "Write My Name in the Book of Life". Finding Your Roots. Season 7. Episode 5. PBS. 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. pp. 188–204. JSTOR j.ctt5hhz41.14.
  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 "Mahogany Cafe". www.mahoganycafe.com. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  10. ^ Alexander (2003), p. 254.
  11. ^ Hurd, Mary G. Women Directors and their Films, Praeger Publishers, 2007, p. 137.
  12. ^ "Eve's Bayou". Rotten Tomatoes. November 7, 1997.
  13. ^ a b c "Kasi Lemmons". Film Independent. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  14. ^ Hurd (2007), p. 138.
  15. ^ "'Talk to Me' Director Kasi Lemmons on Petey Greene". NPR.org. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "Kasi Lemmons, Sensational Sista". www.films42.com. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  18. ^ "Forest Whitaker now attached to star in Kasi Lemmons musical Black Nativity Archived April 12, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, blogs.indiewire.com; accessed April 30, 2015.
  19. ^ Kroll, Justin (September 1, 2021). "Kasi Lemmons To Direct TriStar's Whitney Houston Biopic 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ "Metropolitan Opera Fire Shut Up in MY Bones". Metropolitan Opera. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  22. ^ Baker, Christina N. (December 28, 2020). Kasi Lemmons: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-4968-3170-5.
  23. ^ Alexander (2003), p. 271.
  24. ^ "The 2019 Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC) Winners". December 19, 2019. Retrieved December 29, 2019.