First Black Woman to Create Feature Independent Film Dies at 76

by Xara Aziz
Courtesy: Black Film Center & Archive
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Jessie Maple, the first Black woman to write and produce a full-length feature independent film, has died, her family has confirmed. She was 76.

The cinematographer, director and film industry icon’s family confirmed the news to Black Film Center & Archive.

In addition to being the first Black woman to release an independent film, she was the first Black woman to be admitted into the International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television Union.

Maple’s journey to critical acclaim began in the 1970s when she decided to ditch a career at a bacteriology and serology laboratory to begin working in entertainment. She would end up moving to New York where she wrote for the New York Courier. She later attended Ossie Davis’ Third World Cinema through the National Education Television Training School, where she was tapped to become an apprentice editor. It was in that role that she worked on the hit action/crime films Shaft’s Big Score! and The Super Cops.

But Maple knew she was determined to produce films on her own. She started by joining the Film Editor’s Union and the Cinematographer’s Union where she worked as a camerawoman.

Then in 1981, she made her directorial debut in the basketball drama Will, making her the first Black woman to produce and direct an independent film. She would later become the co-founder of LJ Productions, alongside her husband Leroy Patton, which screened independent, Black-made films in Harlem.

“Her films, books, and unapologetic post to highlight discrimination and injustices within the news and entertainment industries will remain with us,” Maple’s family said in the statement. “The world through Jessie’s lens offers views of humanity that are often overlooked due to race and post dynamics.”

And on Twitter, the Black Film Center & Archive wrote that they “extend our deepest condolences to the entire family. We’re committed and dedicated to honoring her legacy.”

Maple is survived by her husband, three daughters, a grandson, five sisters and many nieces and nephews. Rest well, Ms. Jessie. Your legacy will remain forever.

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