As I write this, Hurricane Dorian has just ravaged the Bahamas and pummeled the southeast coast of the United States. Luckily, Sacramento doesn’t have to worry about such meteorological events.
Or do we?
On October 19th, Hurricane Jenifer — Jenifer Lewis, that is — will roar into town as the Keynote Presenter at this fall’s 11th annual Exceptional Women Of Color event. Lewis is the force of nature who has been a Tinseltown staple for over 30 years, earning the moniker The Mother Of Black Hollywood.
Brilliantly, that’s also the title of her 2017 best-selling memoir, an honest, detailed book that’s just been released in paperback. The Mother Of Black Hollywood’s overarching message? If Lewis can make it through the formidable challenges she’s faced — SPOILER ALERT! There have been many! — so can we. It’s a loving, at times searing tome that describes the journey that a little girl from St. Louis took to becoming, as she loves to call herself:
“Jenifer Muthafucking Lewis.”
Our early morning, mid-summer conversation was peppered with that kind of “real talk.” Only the mother of black Hollywood could get away with it!
“You’ve got to understand, darling, that I’ve been an entertainer for my entire existence,” Lewis, 62, EXCLUSIVELY told me, during a chat that left me feeling quite good about being called “darling.” For one of the few times in my career, I threw objectivity to the wind.
This is Jenifer Muthafucking Lewis.
“It’s a huge responsibility to say ‘come see me after your 9 to 5’, which for most people is a job that they don’t love. I, on the other hand, have gotten to do what I loved to do. So when people come see me, they leave entertained. It is what I do!”
I probed. Will Lewis be singing at UC-Davis’ Mondavi Center? Dancing? Acting?
The singular answer to those multiple questions is an emphatic “yes!”
“I don’t do interviews about what my shows are going to be anymore,” Lewis calmly and confidently asserted. “You guys know what I do. I was the Beyoncé of my time! But we didn’t have all that we have now in the business, with regard to platforms and content.”
In a rare retreat, Lewis hilariously amended that last declaration.
“Let me rephrase that,” Lewis whispered, as if to offer a salve to the Beyhive, before bellowing “I couldn’t have touched Beyoncé! Even I wasn’t that talented. That’s one talented bitch right there!”
“But I was an entity unto myself,” Lewis continued. “The mold was thrown away, darling. There was no other Jenifer Lewis! Don’t you know I searched for her? I searched for her so I could have someone to look up to! I loved Pearl Bailey, Judy Garland, Aretha, Shirley Bassey, but there weren’t that many people on television I could look up to.”
“So I had to build Jenifer Lewis from the ground up!”
Over the decades, Lewis has portrayed characters who were the consciousness of a variety of stories, and she’s played the mother of everyone from Tupac to Whitney Houston on film and TV. Current audiences may know her best as Ruby on the ABC sitcom black-ish. We’re fortunate that Lewis will take a break in taping the show to share a part of herself with northern California fans this fall.
And as she starts work on her second memoir, Lewis implores us to roll up our sleeves in 2020.
“We have Lex Luthor and Bozo in the White House, but I do not allow anyone to go on about how horrible the world is,” Lewis said. “The world is not horrible. The world is beautiful, and it always will be! We have mad men leading, but they’re not really leading…not really.”
“I want to say we have to fight, but we have to stand,” Lewis continued. “Am I scared? Yes. But I’m unafraid! And that is what we must be: unafraid. Lex Luthor has his finger on the button, and that’s scary shit! But I’m an optimist. We have to stand together, because when we laid down, we wound up with Bozo The Fucking Clown in the White House.”
“So we’ve got work to do!”
Click here for information and tickets to see Jenifer Lewis and the 2019 Exceptional Women Of Color event.