Moonyeenn Lee, the acclaimed South African agent and casting director who cast films such as the foreign-language Oscar winner “Tsotsi” and Oscar-nominated “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom,” died in Johannesburg on Saturday due to coronavirus-related complications. She was 76.
Lee’s company, Moonyeenn Lee & Associates, announced the news in a statement on its Facebook page on Sunday. “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of the legendary South African agent and casting director, Moonyeenn Lee,” reads the statement.
“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.”
It continued: “Moonyeenn 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.”
Over the course of her 47-year career, Lee became a formidable presence in the South African industry, and a passionate advocate for South African talent internationally. She managed the casting of films such as “Hotel Rwanda,” “Blood Diamond” and “Black Panther,” as well as TV series including the Emmy-winning “Homeland,” the Emmy-nominated “The Prisoner” and “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.”
Lee was nominated for two Emmy Awards, for “The Looming Tower” and “Roots.” She was the first South African member of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Television Academy.
Lee is survived by her daughter, Cindy Lee, and her son, David Lee.
Tributes to Lee’s life and career poured in across South African social media over the weekend.
“We have lost our beloved Moonyeenn Lee,” wrote Oscar-winning director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”) on Twitter. “Moon had an extraordinary eye for pure emotional truth. She cast my first short, ‘The Storekeeper,’ ‘Tsotsi’ and ‘Eye in the Sky.’ How can I thank you enough Moon? I will miss you so very much. Rest well my precious courageous friend.”
We have lost our beloved Moonyeenn Lee. Moon had an extraordinary eye for pure emotional truth. She cast my first short, The Storekeeper, Tsotsi and Eye in the Sky. How can I thank you enough Moon? I will miss you so very much. Rest well my precious courageous friend. #moonyeenn https://t.co/XJ9CsphRFN
— Gavin Hood (@gavin_hood1) July 19, 2020
“My agent, my friend, my sister passed away last night,” “Black Panther” actor John Kani, who was repped by Lee, wrote on Twitter. “RIP Moonyeenn Lee. I truly have no words to express grief. Thank you for everything. Elder”
My agent, my friend, my sister passed away last night. RIP Moonyeenn Lee. I truly have no words to express grief. Thank you for everything. Elder 🙏🏿💝⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
— JohnKani (@JohnKani2) July 19, 2020
South Africa’s Minister for Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, described Lee as a “colossal” figure, adding that the industry “has truly lost a Champion.”
— Masechaba Khumalo 🇿🇦 (@MasechabaNdlovu) July 19, 2020
Pictured: Moonyeenn Lee, right, and guest arrive at night one of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Los Angeles.