Jenny Lumet knows all about facing her demons.
In 2017, she wrote a #MeToo letter to The Hollywood Reporter accusing entertainment mogul Russell Simmons of sexual assault — a charge that resulted in Simmons stepping down from the helm of his entertainment empire.
In some ways, that ordeal gave Lumet an ideal vantage point to peer into the heart of Clarice Starling, heroine of both Jonathan Demme's 1991 movie The Silence of the Lambs and now of Clarice, the new CBS drama Lumet is executive-producing with writing partner Alex Kurtzman.
Having met women who shared experiences like her own with Simmons, the writer-producer says she understands that "very strange sisterhood" of victims.
Clarice (played by Rebecca Breeds of Pretty Little Liars) shares a similar bond with Catherine Martin (Marnee Carpenter of Criminal Minds), a survivor of serial killer Buffalo Bill. Set in 1993, a year after the events in Demme's film, the show finds the women coping with post-traumatic stress as Clarice hunts a new killer.
"There is no one else in the world who knows what Buffalo Bill's basement smells like," Lumet says. "Who knows what his dog's claws sound like on the stone. Who knows how the sound echoes. It's a shared experience only these two women have" — even if facing it is "a little bit like staring into the sun." Exploring shared trauma "is a gift," she adds. "This is the story I want to tell right now.'"
After Demme directed Lumet's debut script, 2008's Rachel Getting Married, her career should have skyrocketed. Instead, it stalled. Subsequent screenplays were optioned but never went into production. She became a go-to script doctor and started collaborating with Rachel fan Kurtzman, who pointed her toward television; she's worked on two shows he cocreated, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.
Lumet doesn't think her creative voice really "exploded," however, until she wrote the #MeToo letter. "If you say the scary thing, it's kind of liberating," she says.
Since then, she's cocreated three television shows — Clarice plus the upcoming Man Who Fell to Earth and Blackbird: Lena Horne and America (Horne was Lumet's grandmother). And she recently signed a four-year producing deal that will keep her at CBS Studios.
While moving her new projects forward, she can continue to develop the heroine of Clarice, who uses her voice to speak for — and save — other women. Not unlike herself. "I freaking love that," she says.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2021