Lawson was born in Los Angeles, California. She is the daughter of Denise (née Gordy) and actor Richard Lawson, making her the step-daughter to Lawson's second wife Tina Knowles, and step-sister to singers Beyoncé and Solange Knowles. Lawson is also the great-niece of Motown founder Berry Gordy. She attended the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and graduated from Marymount High School, a Catholic school in Los Angeles. She then went on to study film and psychology at University of Southern California. Lawson's parents are both African-American, and she also has Italian, Native American, Portuguese, and Creole ancestry.
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