‘Whitney Houston’ director Kasi Lemmons on Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez

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Kasi Lemmons. Photo credit: Greg Gorman

Kasi Lemmons, director of the bio-drama “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” cites the magic realism of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez’s 1967 classic novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” as tremendously impactful on her as an artist. She similarly admires Toni Morrison’s use of the literary style alongside with the gritty reality of life and complex characters in novels such as “Song of Solomon,” “Love,” and “Tar Baby.” 

More: Director Kasi Lemmons on Whitney Houston’s divided self

More: Bookworm: In tribute to Toni Morrison

This segment has been edited for length and clarity. 

Toni Morrison was a big influence on me and Gabriel García Márquez. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was a big influence. I think because it was a family story, and there was magic realism, and those things combined, I found [it] very evocative. And I had this family drama in my mind for a long time, and I knew that it had magical realism elements. [So] I think I was very, very inspired by Márquez. 

[Toni Morrison] was very important to me. She's one of my high priestess goddesses, and the way that magic realism could exist in kind of a dusty environment, real American, very, very Black, and very authentic feeling — that really moved me about Toni.

But I think it’s Song of Solomon” – I believe that's the book I read first, and I believe that's the one that really made this take off in me. The flight of imagination and magic realism, dusty family stories and quite tragic stories. She was a huge influence.

Complicated characters that are neither super heroic, or they're heroic in an interesting way, if they're heroic. They had their very flawed characters. I think that that's also quite present in all of her work. 

I met her because I wanted to do [Morrison’s novel] “Love.” Now there's a haunting book. She said something really interesting: “A movie is as much like a book as a poem is like a book.” And I thought that was really… it stuck with me. 

Tar Baby” was a really important book for me, honestly, the same way [James] Baldwin really opened my mind to being able to write different types of characters from different economic echelons, and white and Black characters, equally, effectively, and beautifully – that's very present in “Tar Baby,” and, [it] was a really magical thing for me to read. It's like, “Wow, this is life and yet magical.”

The clouds looked at each other, then broke apart in confusion. Fish heard their hooves as they raced off to carry the news of the scatterbrained river to the peaks of hills and the tops of the champion daisy trees. But it was too late. The men had gnawed through the daisy trees until, wild-eyed and yelling, they broke in two and hit the ground. In the huge silence that followed their fall, orchids spiraled down to join them. – Excerpt from “Tar Baby”



Rebecca Mooney