Reel Gems | Jenifer Lewis

by Tim Gordon

Happy Birthday to “The Mother of Black Hollywood,” Jenifer Lewis born on this day in 1957. She began her career appearing in Broadway musicals and worked as a backup singer for Bette Midler before appearing in films Beaches and Sister Act.

The three-time Black Reel Award-winning actress is primarily known for playing roles of mothers in the films such as What’s Love Got to Do With It, Poetic Justice, The Preacher’s Wife, The Brothers, The Cookout, Think Like a Man and the sequel Think Like a Man Too, Baggage Claim, as well as in The Temptations miniseries.

Lewis is unofficially known as “The Mother of Black Hollywood” (also the name of her memoir), given her frequent matriarchal film and television roles. She also provided the voice for Mama Odie in Disney’s animated feature The Princess and the Frog, and Flo in Pixar’s Cars series. Additional film roles include Dead Presidents, Cast Away, and Hereafter.

On television, Lewis starred as Lana Hawkins in the Lifetime medical drama Strong Medicine. She also had recurring roles on sitcoms A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Girlfriends. Recently, Lewis starred as Ruby Johnson in the ABC comedy series Black-ish, for which she received three consecutive Black Reel Television Awards and two Critics’ Choice Television Award nominations.