Nesta Cooper and Kelley Kali Team Up For “Kemba” Drama Inspired by Kemba Smith


Nesta Cooper is bringing the story of activist and author Kemba Smith to the screen in “Kemba.” Directed by Kelley Kali for MPI Original Films and BET, “Kemba” is a drama inspired by the true events of Smith’s biography – at just 24, she was sentenced to 24.5 years in federal prison for participating in her boyfriend’s drug operation, despite being a first-time, nonviolent offender – as well as her lifelong project of criminal justice reform in America. Deadline broke the news.

Cooper, who stars in Apple TV+ sci-fi “See,” will play Smith, a promising college student who fall in love, unbeknownst to that fact that her boyfriend is a drug kingpin who will corrupt her life with abuse, manipulation, and eventually, a prison sentence of nearly two-and-a-half decades. With Stacey Parks and Lana Link among the producers as well as Smith herself executive producing, “Kemba” will tackle institutional racism, racial inequality, and prison reform. Principal photography will begin in Atlanta this October.

Kali recently co-wrote, co-directed, produced, and starred in feature “I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking),” for which she and co-helmer Angelique Molina won a Special Jury Award at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. The comedic drama follows a houseless mother who convinces her eight-year-old daughter that they are merely camping for fun. Kali made history as the only woman selected to direct the first-ever Creole dramatic TV series “Noh Matta Wat.” 

Cooper’s film credits include “Bliss,” a drama starring Salma Hayek, and teen comedy “Reality High.” 

“Kemba” will have its television premiere on BET, with additional launch and distribution plans set to be announced at a later date.

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