An award-winning director, writer, professor and actress, Kasi Lemmons is one of the most dynamic figures to contribute to the landscape of Black film. She has directed and produced a bevy of Black cinematic masterpieces such as 2019's Harriet to the 2020 series Self Made. A recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, Lemmonse has dedicated her career to the careful yet intentional depiction of the multifaceted nature of Black life. She currently serves as Associate Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Lemmons seminal film, her directoral debut of Eve's Bayou—which is widely celebrated for the ways in which the film illuminated Black southern life—has contextualized the diverse layers of secrets and the weight of keeping them hidden. With its brilliant slate of actors, including Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Meagan Good, Jurnee Smollett, Debbi Morgan, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Roger Guenveur Smith and the late Diahann Carroll, Eve's Bayou has become cemented as a Black cult classic film. It has also been inducted into the National Film Registry and the Criterion Collection.
2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the film's captivating release. Since that time, it has continued to move conversations forward about generational truths, trauma and the weight of keeping secrets hidden. This past weekend Lemmons was honored during the Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival for the ways in which Eve's Bayou contributed to Black culture. On Saturday August 6th, "In a Color of Conversation" panel, Dr. Lisa Coleman, Sr. VP of Global Inclusion & Strategic Innovation moderated a panel at MVAAFF with Lemmons regarding her seminal film.
Below, Lemmons discussed the lasting legacy and future of Eve's Bayou with EBONY.
EBONY: Congratulations on the anniversary of Eve's Bayou. Can you believe it's been 25 years?
Kasi Lemmons: It's a really wonderful feeling, such a gift. And I'm so honored to be part of the National Archives, that was a great honor and honor to be released. They're releasing on Criterion. It's really a true gift. It's a very special film to me. Obviously, it was my first but also my most personal work—so it's wonderful to celebrate this anniversary.
Where were you creatively when building this body of work? And did you have any hopes for what this film's legacy would evolve into 25 years later?
Not at all. When I first wrote it, I think I had a vague idea that one day I might grow into the role of myself, so I kind of wrote that role for myself ( or maybe I'll direct it one day). I didn't expect anything to happen right away. So when it did, it was unexpected for me. I showed the script to my acting agent, Frank Williger, who got very excited by it and he took it to the literary department. We started trying to shop it with me as the writer. In the process of trying to find a director, I woke up one day and decided I would direct it.
However, a lot of my career had a sort of Byzantine pathway to it. I knew the story of Eve very well. There was a therapy in writing it. There were things that I wanted to say and I knew when I finished the film and saw the first cut that I managed to achieve that goal. I achieved a lot of personal goals with this film simply by thinking that this is a film that I would enjoy.
Thinking about how other generations will engage with this film in the future, what are your hopes that they are able to take from the film?
It was such a personal story. What I hope and what I think I achieved is that it's so personal and so culturally specific, that it's universal. Because I'm speaking from the heart about a family that I'm familiar with, that can be anybody's family. I think one thing that the film does really well is remind people of their own humanity. We all make horrible mistakes, we all love too hard, and we all try and fail. We lose, we suffer loss—and I felt that all of that was really contained in the film. Eve's Bayou has a universality and an ability to communicate across cultures, time and generations that I appreciate. I hope that future generations will appreciate it, too.