Wednesday, July 24, 2019

New Film from Director Kasi Lemmons

I stand by my opinion on the talent of actress/director Kasi Lemmons. If she was a white guy like Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino and Jon Favreau -- all men who have acted in and directed feature films -- she would have been on glossy entertainment magazine covers in 1997 and top Hollywood agencies would have booked her for meetings to discuss future film opportunities. She would've been a guest on network morning news programs. If you've seen 1991's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, you've seen Kasi Lemmons. She played the FBI cadet training academy best buddy to Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster).
Before I tell you about the new film from director/screenwriter Kasi Lemmons, let me remind you about the first feature film she directed. It's the complex, hypnotical and beautifully photographed story of a middle class African-American family in Louisiana. The dapper father is a doctor. A snapshot would show a family that's done well for itself. The story opens with this voiceover: "The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old." Reviews for 1997's EVE'S BAYOU were like love letters. It should have received Oscar nominations. But it didn't. EVE'S BAYOU starred Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Diahann Carroll.
You need to see this movie.  It is a stunning directorial debut for a new filmmaker.

In 2018, EVE'S BAYOU was added to the prestigious National Film Registry for its "cultural, historic and aesthetic importance." Some of the other films added along with it last year were:

REBECCA, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, directed by Orson Welles
Disney's animated CINDERELLA.

In its theatrical release, EVE'S BAYOU deserved a lot more promotion. I bet Kasi Lemmons, being a Black independent filmmaker -- and a woman -- got a minimal marketing budget. She should've gotten entertainment news TV attention like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon got for their GOOD WILL HUNTING screenplay for her directorial debut and her film's stellar reviews.

In 2007, director Kasi Lemmons gave us the highly entertaining and touching TALK TO ME, one of those films that makes you say "How can it be that Don Cheadle has only one Oscar nomination in his credits?" In TALK TO ME, Lemmons introduced us to the largely overlooked true story of radio star Ralph "Petey" Greene. Before Howard Stern, there was Petey Greene. He was an ex-con who talked his way into an on-air host job at a Washington, DC station. His outspoken, outrageous, rebellious and refreshing humor in the 1960s took a radio station from bargain basement ratings and put it on the main floor. He took his humor from radio to TV and was such a hit, he was booked to be a guest on the TONIGHT Show hosted by Johnny Carson in New York City. Petey became a social activist and helped calm the community when fires broke out upon hearing the news of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination.
Don Cheadle is an absolute hoot as this hot mess of a guy who becomes a hot radio star. TALK TO ME also features Martin Sheen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P. Henson and Cedric the Entertainer.

Director Kasi Lemmons now gives us Black American history in HARRIET, the story of Harriet Tubman. She's the heroic woman who helped liberate hundreds of enslaved people through the Underground Railroad. Actress Cynthia Erivo, Tony winner for her performance in the revival of Broadway's THE COLOR PURPLE musical, stars as Harriet Tubman.

Click onto this link to see a trailer for HARRIET:

HARRIET is the kind of project that a top Hollywood studio should have done in the 1970s as a major release starring Ruby Dee or Cicely Tyson after her Best Actress Oscar nomination for 1972's SOUNDER. Alas, Hollywood studios did not greenlight projects like HARRIET for Black actresses in those days. Cicely Tyson's one and only Oscar nomination was for SOUNDER. After that, TV gave her more opportunities that Hollywood did. She played Harriet Tubman in the 1978 network TV special, A WOMAN CALLED MOSES. Brava, Kasi Lemmons, and thank you.

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