Not enough people, it seems, are aware of Jessie Maple, given her contributions to black cinema. So for those who aren’t familiar, and introduction from Diane Tucker:
Jessie Maple is included in nearly every who’s who of film except the Registry. Will is the first post civil rights feature-length film produced by an African-American woman. (Hollywood guilds are more than 80% white.) Maple’s film received the Special Merit Award at the Athens International Film Festival.
And there’s much more.
In 1974, she became the first black woman to join the International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television Union (except that ‘became’ is a tame verb to use, given the trials and obstacles to joining the union, including lawsuits against major New York TV stations, pushback from the industry, and the weightiness of ‘being the first’). She recorded the experience in her book How to Become a Union Camerawoman (more on that below).
In 1982, she founded 20 West, Home of Black Cinema in Harlem as a venue to show films by independent and black filmmakers to the public.
All the while, she was producing content, often with her husband Leroy Patton, with whom she founded LJ Productions in 1974. She produced two feature length films (Twice as Nice was her second in 1988), and several documentaries (Methadone: Wonder Drug or Evil Spirit and Black Economic Power: Reality or Fantasy among her selections).
New York Women in Film and Television called Maple’s work “a forerunner of the independent, minority filmmaking that would cultivate directors like Spike Lee, Charles Burnett, Leslie Harris and Lee Daniels.”
In 2005, Maple donated her personal collection to the BFC/A, and we maintain an extensive collection of her films and logbooks, photos and news clippings, correspondences and more. We’ve gathered a sampling below to try and share some of Jessie Maple and her story.
[click ‘Continue Reading’ after the first item to see the rest; click on each photo for a larger image).
The February 1976 Ebony magazine (newstand price:$1) includes a feature on Jessie Maple. It tells the story of Maple’s struggles to break into the Cinematrogphers Union and of her courtship with her husband, Leroy Patton. The article is written 5 years before the release of Will, though it mentions the project. Between the timbre of a 1970s Ebony issue (“What Happened to the Black Revolutionaries?” asks one title piece, among ads for a range of products), the piece details Maple’s work and determination in a particular type of biographical voice:
Like other grown-ups among her four brothers and seven sisters, Jessie has spent all of her adult years in the north, but she retains a deceptively Southern manner. And when though the quiet drawl, infectious giggle and unassuming air there appears a hard-nosed, ambitious professional, it can come as a surprise.
This issue, as well as other issues of Ebony and many other magazines, can be accessed here.