Legendary SA casting director Moonyeenn Lee dies from Covid-19 complications

Moonyeenn Lee
Moonyeenn Lee
Photo: The Times /Thys Dullaart/Gallo
  • South African casting director Moonyeenn Lee has died from complications caused by the coronavirus.
  • Moonyeenn's company, Moonyeenn Lee Associates announced the news via a statement on their Facebook page.
  • The famed casting director, who spent 47 years in the film industry, worked on projects like The Bang Bang Club and the Oscar-winning movie, Tsotsi.

Legendary South African casting director and agent Moonyeenn Lee has died.

Moonyeenn, who was born in 1944 in Johannesburg, died on Saturday, due to complications caused by the coronavirus.

On Sunday Moonyeenn Lee Associates said on its Facebook page: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of the legendary South African casting director and agent, Moonyeenn Lee."

Her 47 years in the film industry earned her a formidable reputation - you didn't go through if you didn't go through Moonyeenn.

In 2003, Moonyeenn was nominated to the national executive committee of the Independent Producer's Organisation (IPO) and the Film Board of Create South Africa. 

In the same year, she formed Khulisa Productions to make South African films. The company later created its first film, Promised Land.

"Moonyeenn's passion for South African stories and local talent was well known. Over the years, she would travel around the world introducing producers and directors to South African actors. She would always do everything in her power to convince them to rather cast local actors over foreign actors. Her dedication eventually paid off as many international productions trusted her to cast locally," the statement reads.

Moonyeenn was renowned as one of South Africa's leading agents, probably the most famous one in the country, and represented some of SA's best-known actors through her company, Moonyeenn Lee & Associates (MLA). 

"She cared deeply for actors and was a fearless defender of their rights," said MLA.

"Work was central in her life. Her actors were her family. The directors and producers she worked with were all her friends. She was brutally honest, a bit too much for some, but she believed in saying things as they are.

"Her quick wit, her wicked sense of humour and deep understanding of her craft made her interesting company. Her family and friends will remember her for her generosity and kindness to those in need, for her fighting spirit as well as for her unwavering commitment to the local industry."

Moonyeen received the Lionel Ngakane Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Film & Television Awards in 2017.

She became the first South African member of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes for the Oscars, and the Television Academy, which votes for the Emmys.

She also managed the casting of films such as The Bang Bang Club, Disgrace, the Oscar-winning Tsotsi, Fanie Fourie's Lobola, the Oscar-nominated Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Hotel Rwanda and Blood Diamond, the Oscar-shortlisted Black Panther and Life, Above All, as well as Golden Globe nominees Machine Gun Preacher and Mandela and De Klerk.

Moonyeenn also did the casting for Emmy-winning series Homeland, as well as nominees like The Prisoner and No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. She was nominated for two Emmy Awards for The Looming Tower and Roots.

The casting director helped shape the lives of many actors, directors and writers through her fierce honesty and passion. "The South African film industry has lost an icon and a formidable champion of the arts. She will be sorely missed by us all," added MLA. 

She is survived by her daughter, Cindy Lee, her son, David Lee and her pets, Hitchcock, Eva and Spice.

The Commercial Producers Association of South Africa said it is "very sad to learn of the passing of legendary agent and casting director, Moonyeenn Lee. A great loss to the South African film industry! Our condolences go to Cindy, David and family and to all at MLA." 

Roberta Durrant from Penguin Films said: "I got to know Moonyeen four decades ago when she first represented me as an actress and then worked closely with her ever since, as she represented the amazing talent in our industry.

"She has launched so many careers and has been a guiding light for our industry, not only locally, but internationally as well. Moonyeen will be deeply missed by all."

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