Very few Black women have a voice in film criticism. It hasn’t been easy, but Lonita Cook has slowly found a place in an industry filled primarily by older white men. Cook arguably has one of the best smiles on Kansas City television, but she also knows her stuff when it comes to movies. As KCTV5’s film critic, Cook is breaking new ground and making history. Film critics have traditionally not looked like her or shared her perspective.
Currently, Cook is the only Black woman in the country on a newcast reviewing films weekly. It’s an honor not lost on the forty-ish-year-old KCK native, who grew up with aspirations of becoming an actor. “I grew up as a movie enthusiast,” she says. “I watched movies every week at Indian Springs Mall. I developed my background in film by soaking up everything I saw, with dreams of becoming an actress.”
Cook landed in New York after graduating from Sumner Academy of Arts & Science. She enrolled at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where she studied acting for two years.
Upon her return to Kansas City, Cook honed her acting skills on the stages of the Coterie and Unicorn theaters. The gigs paid, but not enough. The corporate world became her financial refuge, and motherhood became her priority, but she never lost her dreams.
Cook began writing, a passion she developed in high school. She self-published a novel, The Chronicles of Cyn Awaken the Sleeper, then began writing entertainment stories for The Examiner’s web platform.
Michelle Davidson, who was the host of the now-defunct KSHB lifestyle show Kansas City Live, discovered Cook’s work on the Examiner website. The two became friends, and Davidson periodically began inviting Cook to talk about movies on her show in 2012.
Cook admits to not having much broadcast television experience. However, she had volunteered as a host on a TV show called The Artist Tree produced at a local community college to help a friend. In 2017, Cook was asked to join the KCTV5 team by a former producer at KSHB who was then working at KCTV.
A large part of what makes this single mother of three so good on TV is her infectious energy level and Oprah-like relatability. Cook has become a fresh and welcomed voice in a sea of sameness. Cook understands that she is a rarity and admits that it took time for her to find her voice and be comfortable with her authentic self on air.
Being the “only” is also something Cook has learned to cope with. She is the only Black member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, an organization founded fifty-six years ago and composed of roughly thirty local film critics. “I know that as the only Black member, my voice and my opinion is diluted,” Cook says. “But I am heard. I make it a point to get my opinions across when we meet to vote and discuss film.”
Cook attributes her success to her hustle and hip hop-inspired grind. It has led her to unprecedented success in an industry where the survival rate is low and doors usually remain closed. She has also amassed quite a roster of A-list celebrities she has interviewed for KCTV5, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Matt Damon and Marlon Wayans.
Cook is well on her way to expanding her profile. She also reviews movies for television stations in Portland, Oregon, and Des Moines, Iowa. Cook is also currently working on a screenplay and producing a local lifestyle show for KCPT. Her ultimate goal is to produce movies, but right now she’s succeeding at breaking down other people’s work as a film critic who just happens to be a Black woman.