NYWIFT Blog

Trailblazing Through the Decades: Jessie Maple (1980s)

In honor of Women’s History Month, NYWIFT looks back at some of the remarkable women who have shaped the film, television and digital media industries through the decades.


By Kathryn O’Kane

Jessie Maple is a filmmaker. She’s also a director, editor, producer, writer, cinematographer, and pioneer.

Maple is the first black woman to join the union of International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television (IATSE) in New York. Her book, How to Become a Union Camerawoman, is an instructional guide illustrating the obstacles that she endured to get into the union. It details the court case she initiated to fight discrimination after she became a member.

jessie-maple.jpg

It’s also insight into Maple’s MO. When she wanted to make films to counter negative representation of African Americans in movies, she left her job as a lab bacteriologist and took filmmaking classes at WNET and Third World Cinema. She and her husband started a production company. Her film Will (1981) about a basketball coach trying to kick a drug habit was one of the first feature-length films by a black woman in the post-civil rights era. Needing a venue to premiere the film, she founded 20 West, Home of Black Cinema in Harlem as a venue to show films by independent and black filmmakers to the public.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Maple said, “You can’t stop progress. You can hold it up for a minute, but you can’t stop it. Some people have asked, aren’t you angry that you had to go through all that? And I said no, I made money, and I had fun. So why would I be angry? You don’t get anything unless you pay a price for it.”

Will was restored and preserved by NYWIFT’s Women’s Film Preservation Fund.

PUBLISHED BY

busyk

busyk Kathryn O’Kane is a director and producer with over 20 years of experience in television and advertising. She directed season 2 of the Emmy nominated series The World According to Jeff Goldblum for Disney+. She was the showrunner of the James Beard award-winning Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and she produced six seasons of the Emmy award-winning series Friday Night Tykes. Her episodes of Iconoclasts for Sundance and Oprah Presents Masterclass for OWN have won NAACP Imagine awards. Kathryn has crafted short form narratives as diverse as Mission Juno for NASA, segments of AMC’s Talking Dead, and commercial assignments for Apple, Meta, United Airlines, and SAP. Kathryn served two terms on the board of New York Women in Film and Television, championing equal pay, diversity and inclusion, and safety in the workplace. She is a member of the Directors Guild of America and Television Academy. Learn more at www.busyk.com.

View all posts by busyk

2 Comments

Oswaldo Jimenez

Greetings… Newsday Media Group on Long Island would like to know if you have a photograph of Jessie Maple you could license or share to accompany her obituary. We have a daily deadline of 7 pm EST. IF possible please send a photo to Oswaldo.Jimenez@newsday.com Regards, Oswaldo Jimenes / Newsday Photo editor. 631-843-2833

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