EXCLUSIVE: Nesta Cooper (See) has signed on to star in the feature-length drama Kemba, inspired by the life of criminal justice reform advocate Kemba Smith, which Kelley Kali (I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)) is directing for MPI Original Films and BET.
Kemba picks up with its title character (played by Cooper) as a college student, as she falls in love with a man, only to learn he is a drug kingpin who leads her down a path of abuse and manipulation, placing her in the middle of the government’s “war on drugs,” and ultimately landing her in federal prison. The film will focus on themes paramount in today’s national conversations, including institutional racism, racial inequality and the vital need for criminal justice and prison reform — having its television premiere on BET, with additional launch and distribution plans to be announced at a later date.
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MPI’s Stacey Parks, Lana Link and Rob Pfaltzgraff will produce, with MPI’s Nick Reid, Kemba Smith, and BET’s Maureen Guthman and Connie Orlando serving as executive producers. Jon Marc Sandifer and Lorisa Bates will co-executive produce, with MPI’s Hannah Ruth Earl and BET’s John Baldasare as consulting producers. Principal photography kicks off in Atlanta next month.
Cooper recently starred opposite Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek in Mike Cahill’s Prime Video feature, Bliss. She can currently be seen starring opposite Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard in the third and final season of the Apple TV+ series See, written and executive produced by Steven Knight and directed by Francis Lawrence, which debuted on the streamer on August 26.
An alumna of Howard University and USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Kali was the only woman selected to direct the first creole dramatic TV series in Belize, Noh Matta Wat, for which she won the Paul Robeson Award. She then worked with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s New Form to develop the web series The Discovery of Dit Dodson, which competed at top-tier festivals across the country. Her 2018 film Lalo’s House won the 45th Annual Student Academy Award, then being in consideration for the 91st Academy Awards. She also recently wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the feature I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking), which was an early pick for the narrative competition at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival and went on to win Special Jury Recognition for Multi-hyphenate Storyteller, an award the fest created for her. Kali’s most recent feature can be seen on BET and BET Her, as well as on Amazon, iTunes and HBO Europe, with the filmmaker currently in post-production on a new project that will be announced at a later date.
MPI Original Films is a subsidiary of the production company and talent incubator, Moving Picture Institute. Its past releases include the 2019 feature Miss Virginia starring Uzo Aduba and A Piece of Cake starring Rich Sommer, which was recently nominated for Best Narrative Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. MPI’s most recent feature Pinball, starring Mike Faist and Crystal Reed, will have its world premiere at the Hamptons Film Festival this October.
Cooper is represented by UTA, Lauren Levitt & Associates in Canada, Industry Entertainment and Johnson, Shapiro, Slewett & Kole; Kali by Gersh, manager Capella Fahoome and Del Shaw Moonves.
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