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Director Kasi Lemmons talks about her passion project 'Black Nativity'

By Ray Cornelius | 11/29/2013, 6 a.m.
"Black Nativity" is contemporary version of the Nativity story stars Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson as Naima, a single mother struggling to make ends meet while raising her teenage son Langston, played by Jacob Latimore. The film is now playing. Check local movie listings for showtimes.

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Director and screenwriter Kasi Lemmons.

(“Black Nativity” starring Jennifer Holiday, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Nas, Mary J. Blige and Luke James. Written/directed by Kasi Lemmons. Rated PG. 95 mins. Fox Searchlight)

Acclaimed film director and screenwriter Kasi Lemmons’ is back with a new spin on an old Langston Hughes’ classic play Black Nativity. This contemporary version of the Nativity story stars Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson as Naima, a single mother struggling to make ends meet while raising her teenage son Langston, played by Jacob Latimore. She is forced to send Langston to his grandparents’ home in Harlem, NY for Christmas where he learns the true meaning of the holiday season. Hudson leads an all-star line that includes Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Nas, Mary J. Blige and R&B newcomer Luke James.

Mostly known for her acclaimed 1997 drama, Eve’s Bayou starring Lynn Whitfield and Samuel L. Jackson, Lemmons said she was compelled to bring the genius of Hughes’ work to a new modern audience. Although Black Nativity is perceived to be a faith-based film (Bishop T.D. Jakes is one of the executive producers), Lemmons said that it’s more about the complexities of family and how one decision----big or small---can change the entire course of the one’s history.

Lemmons was recently honored for her body work at the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta. Black Nativity was the festival’s opening night film. During her visit she sat down for an interview with entertainment blogger Ray Cornelius of Ray Cornelius.com. Although, she wouldn’t give any details, Lemmons said Georgia could be the site of a future film. She has already scouted Atlanta for possible locations.

RC: What made you decide to direct this film? Were you on board after the first meeting?

KL: There was no back and forth at all. As soon as Celine Rattray, one of the producers, asked me if was interested in doing Black Nativity, I was like, “That’s it…look no further…I’m your person. I don’t even want to hear of any competition…meet no other directors. I am the one.” Yeah I wanted to do it instantly.

RC: Reportedly, you’ve said that you wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Hudson in mind, explain?

KL: Usually I write characters and I don’t think of actors but in the case of Naima, I knew I wanted a real singer. I knew I wanted her to be both fragile and strong and young and just had Jennifer [Hudson] in mind. It’s unusual for me to write with an actor in mind or to have an actress in mind but I also did the same thing with Tyrese. He had worked with my husband and I just knew that character was for him. Forest [Whitaker] and Angela [Bassett] were kind of like dream people I had in my head. This is one of those times when I really did think about who might play the parts.

RC: You recruited Raphael Saadiq to score the film’s soundtrack. What was it like working with him?

KL: I had written lyrics into the script and I automatically started thinking about songs even though I’m not a songwriter. (LOL) So I knew I needed a partner and I woke up one night in bed and was like Raphael Saadiq. I love him and we had a great time. For me it was a real gift to work around and closely with him because he’s a genius and a visionary. To get to work with him was really different and it was wonderful bringing all of those actors and artists into the studio.