Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett), a 10-year-old girl, lives in a prosperous Creole-American community in Louisiana with her younger brother Poe (Jake Smollett) and her older sister Cisely (Meagan Good), a pretty girl who is just entering puberty. Their parents are Roz (Lynn Whitfield) and Louis (Samuel L. Jackson), a well-respected doctor in Louisiana's "colored" community who claims descent from the French aristocrat who founded the town of Eve's Bayou. One night after a raucous party, Eve accidentally witnesses her father having sex with Matty Mereaux (Lisa Nicole Carson), a family friend. However, Cisely, who has a very affectionate relationship with her father, convinces Eve that she misinterpreted an innocent moment. The unreliability of memory and observation remain important themes throughout the film.
The summer quickly becomes a chaotic and stressful one for the Batiste family. Eve's relationship with her parents becomes more strained as she discovers more evidence of her father's serial infidelity. Cisely comes into conflict with both her sister and mother as she enters puberty and tries to navigate the difficult transition to adulthood, particularly with regard to her appearance and sexuality. Roz eventually begins to suspect her husband's infidelity, prompting conflict between the two as well.
During the chaotic summer, Eve often seeks refuge with her Aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan) who works as a fortune teller and who has had a string of lovers who all died violently. After Eve has a confusing vision of something terrible happening, Mozelle informs her that the gift of second sight runs in their family. Meanwhile, Eve, angered by her father's infidelity, begins to tease Matty Mereaux's husband Lenny (Roger Guenveur Smith) with her knowledge about it.
One day Cisely confides in Eve the secret of why she's been so moody. She tells the story that one night, after their parents had a vicious argument, Cisely went to comfort her father and he, when drunk, attempted to molest her. Enraged, Eve seeks a local witch, Elzora (Diahann Carroll), to commission a voodoo spell to put a fatal curse on her father. While on her way to visit the witch, Eve runs into Lenny Mereaux and questions him about his teaching job that keeps him away from home. In the conversation, she alludes to a possible tryst between his wife Matty and her father.
Eve is under the impression that she is going to receive a voodoo doll of her father. When returning to the witch to get her doll, she is informed that there is no doll and that a curse has been placed on her father. In an attempt to save him, Eve rushes to bring her father home, finding him in a bar chatting with Matty Mereaux. At the same time, a drunken Lenny arrives to take Matty home. After a confrontation, Lenny and Matty leave the bar, and Lenny tells Louis that he will kill him if he talks to Matty again. After Louis says goodbye to Matty, Lenny shoots and kills Louis.
After her father's funeral, Eve soon finds a letter which her father wrote to Mozelle, disputing the accusations. In it, he claims that Cisely had come to him that night and kissed him, first as a daughter and then as a lover. In his drunken state, he reacted violently, slapping her and pushing her to the ground, which made her angry with him. Eve confronts Cisely and uses her second sight to discover what really happened. It ends with the sisters holding hands, gazing at the sunset.Jurnee Smollett as Eve Batiste
Debbi Morgan as Mozelle Batiste Delacroix
Samuel L. Jackson as Louis Batiste
Lynn Whitfield as Roz Batiste
Diahann Carroll as Elzora
Lisa Nicole Carson as Matty Mereaux
Meagan Good as Cisely Batiste
Roger Guenveur Smith as Lenny Mereaux
Vondie Curtis-Hall as Julian Grayraven
Branford Marsalis as Harry
Carol Sutton as Madame Renard
Ethel Ayler as Gran Mere
Jake Smollett as Poe Batiste
Leonard L. Thomas as Maynard
Victoria Rowell as Stevie Hobbs
The film received positive reviews, with Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert naming it the best film of 1997. CNN's Paul Tatara, Empire, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Observer, The New York Times, TIME, Variety, and The Washington Post also loudly praised the film and its performances.
Eve's Bayou received a "fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes, reporting that 80% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 50 reviews. The film did receive many accolades. Debbi Morgan's performance would be her most honored film role, with four nominations and two wins. The film is also noted for Jurnee Smollett's performance; up to this point, she had worked primarily as a TV actress, with Jack as her only previous film.
In February 2008, Eve's Bayou made TIME's list of The 25 Most Important Films on Race.
On February 16, 2009, Debbi Morgan's portrayal of Mozelle Batiste Delacroix was included in Pop Matters' 100 Essential Female Film Performances list.
In 2012 Jurnee Smollett's role as Eve Batiste was included in Essence Magazine's 25 Best Roles for Black Actresses list.
1997 Broadcast Film Critics Association AwardsBest Child Performance – Jurnee Smollett (winner)
1997 Chicago Film Critics Association AwardsBest Supporting Actress – Debbi Morgan (winner)
1997 National Board of Review AwardsOutstanding Directorial Debut – Kasi Lemmons (winner)
1997 San Diego Film Critics Society AwardsBest Supporting Actress – Jurnee Smollett (winner)
1998 Acapulco Black Film FestivalBest Actor – Samuel L. Jackson (winner)
Best Director – Kasi Lemmons (winner)
Best Film (winner)
Best Soundtrack (nominated)
1998 Independent Spirit AwardsBest First Feature – Caldecot Chubb, Kasi Lemmons, Samuel L. Jackson (winner)
Best Supporting Female – Debbi Morgan (winner)
1998 NAACP Image AwardsOutstanding Lead Actor in a Motion Picture – Samuel L. Jackson (nominated)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture – Lynn Whitfield (nominated)
Outstanding Motion Picture (nominated)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture – Vondie Curtis-Hall (nominated)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture – Debbi Morgan (nominated)
Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress – Jurnee Smollett (nominated)
Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress – Meagan Good (nominated)
1998 Satellite AwardsBest Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Drama) – Samuel L. Jackson (nominated)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Drama) – Debbi Morgan (nominated)
Outstanding Cinematography – Amy Vincent (nominated)
1998 Young Artist AwardsBest Performance in a Feature Film (Leading Young Actress) – Jurnee Smollett (nominated)
1998 YoungStar AwardsBest Performance by a Young Actress in a Drama Film – Jurnee Smollett (nominated)
Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Drama Film – Meagan Good (nominated)