Impossible to produce” is what Kasi Lemmons heard when she was shopping her screenplay Eve’s Bayou two years ago — and that was a relatively nice comment, considering that it came from her own producer. ”It was crazy,” Caldecot Chubb (The Crow) now says of taking on the haunting family drama. ”It has an all-black cast, mostly women. It’s period, it’s rural, and it’s told from a child’s point of view.”
And behind it was the fiercely stubborn Lemmons, who was determined to make Eve’s Bayou her feature directorial debut, despite the difficulties of being untested, African-American, a woman, and pregnant.
”I remember having a meeting with a producer, and she said, ‘The problem with women directors is they go off and get f—ing pregnant,”’ says the thirtysomething Lemmons, who was battling morning sickness at the time. ”I said, ‘Excuse me,’ and went to the bathroom to throw up.”
This month, Lemmons reveals the fruits of her labor, which may have some studios wishing they had leapt at the chance to pony up the $4 million in financing. Eve’s Bayou stars Samuel L. Jackson (who also produced), Lynn Whitfield, and Debbi Morgan as family members battling demons — both visible and hidden — over the course of one summer in the ’60s.
Lemmons — who is married to actor-director Vondie Curtis Hall (a regular on Chicago Hope, he also helmed this year’s Gridlock’d) — says she wrote the script ”as insurance for the day when I was 50 and couldn’t get into my little black audition dress anymore.” (Lemmons has appeared in such films as 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs and 1993’s Hard Target.) Major studios didn’t bite, but when Jackson agreed to star and produce, Trimark — which was looking to change its image — signed on. ”They needed a prestigious film,” says Lemmons, ”and they really [wanted] to be in business with Sam Jackson.”
After a frenetic 37-day shoot on location in Louisiana (with her 6-week-old son, Hunter) and six months of editing, Lemmons is settling back into her home in L.A., working on a screenplay based on the 1992 thriller The Impersonator with her husband, who will direct, and anxiously watching the growing enthusiasm for Eve’s Bayou. ”You spend a lot of time bulls—ting about how it can be a big movie, but in my heart, it’s a tiny little film,” she says. ”This is so close to my dream movie. Actually, it’s better.”