As a child, Dawson made a brief appearance on Sesame Street. At the age of 15, she was subsequently discovered on her front porch step by photographer Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, where Korine lauded her as being perfect for a part he had written in his screenplay that would become the controversial 1995 film Kids. She went on to star in varied roles, ranging from independent films to big budget blockbusters including RENT, HE GOT GAME and MEN IN BLACK II.
In 2009, Dawson performed in THE PEOPLE SPEAK, a documentary feature film that uses dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans, based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.
In 2009, Dawson also voiced the character of Velvet Von Black in Rob Zombie's animated feature, THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO. For the Kasabian album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, she is featured singing on the track "West Ryder Silver Bullet".
In 2010, she starred in the movies PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF, as Persephone, and UNSTOPPABLE, as railway yardmaster Connie. In 2013, she played Apple's mother in the independent film GIMME SHELTER. (8/14)