Moonyeenn Lee, legendary South African placement agent, died in Johannesburg on Saturday. She was 76 years old.
An entry on the Facebook page of Moonyeenn Lee Associates (MLA) – the agency through which Lee has represented hundreds of South Africa’s top actors since 1974 – states that she died “due to complications caused by the coronavirus”.
Lee happened to die on the same day as actress Elize Cawood, 68, one of her former clients, who died of lung cancer.
Over the past 47 years, Lee has left deep footprints in the South African and international film industry. She has had a lion’s share in the cast of films such as Black Panther , Blood Diamond , Disgrace , Fanie Fourie’s Lobola , Hotel Rwanda , Life Above All , Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom , The Bang Bang Club and the Oscar-winning Tsotsi . .
She was apparently the first South African to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which decides the Oscars annually, and the Television Academy, which awards the annual Emmys.
In addition to the Lionel Ngakane Award she received for her life’s work in 2017, she has also been nominated for an Emmy twice in her long career.
She is survived by her children, Cindy and David, her sister, Michelle, and her pets, Hitchcock, Eva and Spice.
Actor Tobie Cronjé said that he knew Lee was ill and in hospital, but “is quite grateful that it went so quickly”.
Lee first contacted Cronjé in the late 1970s, shortly after completing Willem , a TV series for the SABC.
“She tried to recruit clients (for MLA) and wanted to hear if I wanted to join her,” says Cronjé.
“I did not really know agents before she contacted me. That world opened up for me – and it actually feels to me as if she created it in South Africa. “
Cronjé agreed, and she eventually represented him until the day of her death.
“She was known as a tough cookie in the industry, but people loved her very much – me too, because she had an enormous impact on my life.
“She was a big supporter of many issues in the South African film industry, such as the legality of black people on stage when it was still banned in the apartheid era. She had a lot of contacts overseas, and she really used it to build someone like (the actress) Nomsa Nene’s career. ”
Nene, in turn, said that she was saddened to learn of Lee and Cawood’s deaths.
“She (Lee) saw me when I performed at the Market Theater in the play The Me Nobody Knows (1977) .
“Remember, in those days black actors were not on white stages, so when she approached me and told me I was on her books from that day on, she looked after me and fought on my behalf to get on those stages. ”
Nene says Lee is the one who supported her when she landed her most famous role, that of Poppie Nongena in the stage adaptation of Elsa Joubert’s The Wandering Years of Poppie Nongena .
“It is extremely sad. She (Lee) has had such a big hand in my career. She was a wonderful negotiator, she had so much class, and she really trusted her actors.
“South Africa has lost someone who loved actors very much – and knew exactly what roles they would thrive in.”