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Lewis, now 57, was born and raised in Missouri. She knew she wanted to act and once she moved to New York City, opportunities came about pretty quickly. Since then, she’s barely had a break doing movies, TV and theatre, including her own made for TV movie, Jackie’s Back, now on DVD. In her next project, Lewis and Debbie Allen are collaborating on Ventura Boulevard, set for release next year. It’s a homage to the film classic Sunset Boulevard starring Gloria Swanson, about an aging actress’ last attempt at the spotlight.

Lewis has created a little industry for herself, though, playing moms in the aforementioned What’s Love Got to Do With It and Baggage Claim, Think Like A Man, Panther, Dead Presidents and The Preacher’s Wife. On That’s So Raven, she played Raven’s psychic grandmother. Ironically, in real life, Lewis has no children.

“I’ve played a couple of doctors, a couple of lawyers. They call me the Black mother of Hollywood,” Lewis says.

One thing about Lewis’ mothers, though, they’re never the matronly type. They are always fully realized women with lives and loves of their own. Although she plays Patton’s demanding mother in Baggage Claim, Catherine is a character with her own romantic issues.

“Baggage Claim is a very sweet romantic comedy. It’s for the whole family. Everybody needs to get a copy because it’s a movie the whole family can sit down and watch. My character Catherine, now she was dysfunctional, but her heart was in the right place. She just wanted to see her daughter settle down.”

Jenifer Lewis: ‘They Call Me the Black Mother of Hollywood’  was originally published on

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