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People In Film | Kim Wayans

Kim Wayans | Showing Her Serious Side

Mostly known as a comedic performer and a member of the impossibly large Wayans clan –– arguably the biggest and funniest family in show business –– Kim Wayans shows a different side of herself in Dee Rees' PARIAH, in which she plays Audrey Freeman, a middle-aged African-American woman struggling with her daughter Alike's (Adepero Oduye) burgeoning lesbian sexuality, and her own troubled marriage to her husband, Arthur (Charles Parnell). Though Wayans had previously only played dramatic roles in the 1994 TV movie OTHERS ARE TALKING ABOUT SEX and the 1997 film CRITICS AND OTHER FREAKS, she had long been looking for a strong script which would allow her to move into more serious territory as an actress. When she read PARIAH, she told, she was “just so moved by the story. I just thought it was so beautifully written and the characters were so interesting and multi-layered. I just really, really wanted to be a part of it. Thankfully, Dee the director and Nekisa [Cooper] the producer, were open to seeing me. Often what I run into is those doors are closed to me because I’m perceived as a comedic performer. When I try to get in on dramas, I’m met with, 'Sorry, we love Kim, she’s funny but we need somebody with some gravitas.' So this is really a lucky break for me that they had an open mind, open heart, I read for it and they loved me and I got the part.”

Kim Wayans | Queen of a Comedy Clan

Clockwise from top left: Damon, Keenen Ivory, Marlon, Shawn, Dwayne, and Kim Wayans.

Even though the Wayans brothers – to refresh your memory, that's Damon, Keenen Ivory, Marlon, Shawn and Dwayne – have spent more time in the spotlight than their sister Kim, it was she who first dreamed of making it in the entertainment world. The daughter of Howell and Elvira Wayans, she grew up in New York City as one of a very large family – in addition to her five brothers, she has four sisters. As she said in an interview with Project Race, being part of such a large family “was crazy. We always had somebody to make up a basketball team. We were very lively, acting out skits, laughing, and always having a good time.” However, among her siblings it was Kim who stood out for her academic ability and panache for performance. (“I came out of the womb knowing that I was meant to be a performer,” she told one interviewer.) As well as an active participant in theatrical productions, Kim was a keen writer who read her stories aloud to classmates and always carried a notebook, scribbling down ideas whenever inspiration hit. When she attended Wesleyan University, where she was a scholarship student, she chose to write a collection of comic short stories for her graduate thesis, and left school with the intention of making people laugh for a living.

Kim Wayans: It's Funnier As A Family

Kim Wayans as Benita Buttrell in IN LIVING COLOR

Kim Wayans, who once declared that “Comedy is the essence of my being,” first got the chance to make the American public laugh on the Bill Cosby-created sitcom A DIFFERENT WORLD in the late 1980s, a spin-off from THE COSBY SHOW which starred Lisa Bonet, reprising her role as Denise Huxtable. Since then, Wayans has regularly collaborated with her brothers on both the small and big screens – very fitting for a person in whose life family plays such an important role. The first of these projects was the immensely popular early '90s sketch show IN LIVING COLOR, in which Kim appeared alongside her brothers Keenen Ivory, Damon, Shawn and, occasionally, Marlon Wayans – not to mention Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx and a young Jennifer Lopez! Following the huge success of that show, Kim has reteamed with members of “Wayans World” in the movies A LOW DOWN DIRTY SHAME (1994), DON'T BE A MENACE TO SOUTH CENTRAL WHILE DRINKING YOUR JUICE IN THE HOOD (1996) and DANCE FLICK (2009) and on the TV projects THE WAYANS BROS., WAYNEHEAD and THUGABOO. While Kim acted in all of these collaborations, she also took the dual role of producer and writer on Damon Wayans' very successful sitcom MY WIFE AND KIDS, between 2002 and 2005.

Kim Wayans: Diversity and Creativity

Kim Wayans was principally drawn to appear in PARIAH because of the strength of writer-director Dee Rees' script, but she also connected with the film because one of its central ideas – an African-American girl trying to make sense of her fractured and conflicting identity – is dominant in her own work as a writer. Since 2008, Wayans has, with her husband, Kevin Knotts, written six children's books about the character Amy “Hodgepodge” Hodges, whose ethnic identity is a confusing mix of Korean, Japanese, African-American and Caucasian. “We're blessed to be the Aunt and Uncle to thirty-eight nieces and nephews, many of whom are multiracial children; they were our inspiration,” says Wayans, discussing the books. “It was important to us that Amy's racial background reflect as much diversity as possible, so that all children could see themselves in her.” Around the same time as publishing the first in the Amy Hodgepodge series, Wayans fulfilled a long-held dream by writing and performing her own one-woman show, A HANDSOME WOMAN RETREATS, an unguarded, introspective look back over her life that is both funny and profound. The show further demonstrated that Wayans cannot be defined by her comic achievements alone, but must be seen as a creative individual who is constantly seeking new challenges. “My passion is being creative in all its many forms,” she said in a 2009 interview. “I love apples, oranges and pears! I can't choose which I love the best. I love it all. I just really love being creative. That's what I love. Creativity is my passion.”

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