Review of Jenifer Lewis’ book The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir

I always saw Jenifer Lewis as the strong, sexy black woman with the deep voice and the street smarts.   I never knew that she could sing and dance as well.  She has appeared in off-Broadway and Broadway stage, television, and movies.   Everyone has probably had a friend they would say is “so crazy”, but fun, until you’re around him or her long enough to see that something is not quite right about them.   Jenifer Lewis has shared her story identifying herself as that “friend”.  One who can turn you on or off in a heartbeat, lift you up or dismiss you.    But, you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong with that person.  They only half-realize themselves that something is wrong in their alone moments.

Through Jenifer’s fascinating show-business life, she hobnobbed with the famous and the infamous.   She fought causes like AIDS, civil rights, bipolar, etc.  She was in the front row when President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination.   She drops a lot of names in the book.  The question is:  Who does she not know?   Seems like she knew or has worked with everybody in the business.

As I read the book, I kept saying to myself as I’m sure people she knew also thought—when will she be satisfied with her accomplishments?  How far does she have to go to be content?   But, I found that no matter where and how much she was performing (throwing that leg up to the ceiling), she never felt that she had done enough to become a star.    When she was up during each performance, she had to come down with men and/or drink in order to get to sleep.  Jenifer found that she was addicted to sex and alcohol, and I would say also to performing.

Jenifer eventually found out that she was bipolar.    I have a friend who is bipolar, but my friend is opposite from Jenifer.   He is not outgoing and refuses to get involved with anyone.   He spends his time watching “reality relationship” TV shows (like Maury Povich and Jerry Springer) in which he says constantly that he will never date anyone because he doesn’t want to go through what those people went through.    I can see my friend in Jenifer otherwise.    Especially in his extreme mood swings— my friend is depressed about what he should be happy about and happy about little or nothing.

In the years dealing with the diagnosis, Jenifer was still up and down, but she had a goal to get well once she knew what the problem was.   I liked the book, especially in how she opened herself up to let you know the good and the bad that usually doesn’t come out until after the star has died.   Thank you, Ms. Lewis, for your honesty.

Jenifer Lewis, The Mother of Black Hollywood

Amistad, Imprint of  HarperCollinsPublishers, c 2017

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

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