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Why Jenifer Jeanette Lewis is “The Mother of Black Hollywood”

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Jenifer Jeanette Lewis is popularly called the mother of black Hollywood, not because she set the pace for black women actresses but for her impeccable prowess acting as a mother. 

Despite her youthfulness and many appearances in Holywood, her acting career received a facelift after accepting to play the mother to Angela Basset in What’s Love Got to Do with It. 

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The movie depicts Tina Turner and became Jenifer’s signature role as a mother in many black Hollywood. She would go on to play mother or aunt to notable black personalities such as Tupac Shakur, Whitney Houston, Will Smith, and Taraji P. Henson.

In this article, we discuss her life, career, and memoir

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Jenifer Jeanette Lewis’ Early Life

Jenifer Jeanette Lewis is the youngest of seven siblings, born to Dorothy Mae Lewis and Edward James Lewis. She joined the church choir at the age of five. Jenifer attended Kinlock High School and Webster University, where she studied theatre. She relocated to New York to pursue her acting career.

Her parents separated two weeks after her birth, making life unbearable for her and her siblings. Her mother worked as an aide, nurse, and cleaner, but the wages weren’t enough to raise seven kids. 

Jennifer craved attention and has felt alone since childhood. Her siblings bonded in pairs, leaving her alone to play. Although her mother raised her the best she could, her hot temper didn’t help in most situations. 

Jenifer’s Career

Video source: WBLS–YouTube

She debuted on Broadway in Eubie in 1979. With singing talent, she landed a role as a backup singer with the stage name Harlette. This role introduced her to television screens on Midler’s Home Box Office specials. 

Jenifer also appeared as a singer in Bettle Midler Beaches in 1988. Four years later, she played a backup singer to Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. 

Although she wasn’t cast for a role in What’s Love Got to Do with It, featuring Angela Basset, Jenifer won her first NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture nomination for her outstanding mother role.

Some of the iconic movies she featured include:

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  • Poetic Justice (1993)
  • The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
  • The Brothers (2001)
  • The Cookout (2004)
  • Think Like a Man (2012) 
  • Think Like a Man Too (2014)
  • Baggage Claim (2013)
  • The Wedding Ringer (2015)
  • Secrets of the Magic City (2014)
  • Wedding Ringer (2015) 
  • It Had To Be You (2015)
  • Black-ish (ABC, 2014-)

Jenifer Jeanette Lewis’ Memoir

The Mother of Black Hollywood by Jenifer Jeanette Lewis
The Mother of Black Hollywood by Jenifer Jeanette Lewis. Image source: Amazon

Titled The Mother of Black Hollywood, Jenifer’s Jeanette Lewis memoir chronicles her life as a child, a singer, a performer, and an actress. She narrates her ordeal as a sexually abused teenager and her experiences with bipolar disorder and sex addiction.

In the memoir, Jenifer craved the long-standing adrenaline she received as the crowd geared her up on stage. She attempts to sustain this feeling by indulging in habitual sexual relations with men after most performances. 

She recalled this phase of her life happened when HIV/AIDS was on the rise. Unfortunately, she lost many friends and loved ones to the disease, which, fortunately, didn’t infect her. 

Many years later, Jenifer reasoned her aftershow cravings were an uncontrolled desire, a symptom of bipolar disease with episodes of depression, despair, hyperactivity, and craving for attention.

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Unfortunately, she spent years ignoring the problem until she couldn’t make sense of the holes she felt in her life despite her success. She eventually went into therapy to manage her mental illness. 

You can read details about her life in her memoir in a paper book or audio file.

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Sedi Djentuh
Sedi Djentuh
Hey, Sedi here, a content writer. She's fascinated by the interplay between people, lifestyle, relationships, tech and communication dedicated to empowering and spreading positive messages about humanity. She's an avid reader and a student of personal weekly workouts. When she's not writing, Sedi is busy advocating for plastic-free earth with her local NGO.


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