African American Filmmaker and Pioneer Jessie Maples Dies

Jessie Maple, cinematographer, director and pioneer in the film industry, has died at the age of 76. Maple was a history-making Black American cinematographer and film director most noted as a pioneer for the civil rights of African-Americans and women in the film industry. Her 1981 film Will was one of the first feature-length dramatic films created by an African-American woman. he movie was filmed on location in Harlem with a budget of $12,000 and featured an as-yet unknown actress, Loretta Devine, in her first film role.

Maple’s death was confirmed by her family in a statement shared by the Black Film Center & Archive.

The trailblazing movie maker broke through a number of barrier for Black women in the film industry and was the first to be admitted into the International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television Union.


Maple had an extraordinary life. In the ’70s, she worked in a bacteriology and serology laboratory before taking on the entertainment industry. She eventually left science behind and headed to New York to write for the New York Courier. After attending Ossie Davis’ Third World Cinema through the National Education Television Training School, Maple was hired as an apprentice editor and worked on projects such as “Shaft’s Big Score!” and “The Super Cops.”

Maple was determined to become a camerawoman. After a long legal fight, she joined the Film Editor’s Union and the Cinematographer’s Union and worked as a news camerawoman for several years.

In 1981, Maple directed the basketball drama “Will,” which was the first independent film directed by a Black woman n the post-civil-rights era. Maple and her husband  Leroy Patton would go on to found LJ Productions, which screened films in Harlem, NY by independent and Black filmmakers.

The Black Film Center & Archive shared the family statement via Twitter with a caption reading, “We extend our deepest condolences to the entire family. We’re committed and dedicated to honoring her legacy.”

In the family statement, Maple is praised for her pursuit of social change within the entertainment spaces.

“Her films, books, and unapologetic post to highlight discrimination and injustices within the news and entertainment industries will remain with us, the 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.”

Jessie Maple is survived by her husband Leroy Patten, their three daughters, her grandson, five sisters,  and a host of nieces and nephews.


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