Jessie Maples, who built a career as a camerawoman and an independent filmmaker when black women were almost nonexistent in those fields, and who left careful instructions for later generations to follow in her footsteps, died May 30 in Atlanta He died at his home. She was 86 years old.
His death was confirmed by E. Danielle Butler, his longtime assistant and co-author of his self-published 2019 memoir, “The Maple Crew”.
Director and camerawoman were just two of Ms. Maple’s many jobs. She also worked as a bacteriologist; wrote a newspaper column; owned coffee shops; baked vegan cookies; and operated a 50-seat theater in the basement of his Harlem brownstone.
Ms. Maple was writing a column called Jessie Grapevine for The New York Courier, a Harlem newspaper, when she moved from print to broadcast journalism in the early 1970s because she wanted to reach more people. Wanted to
After studying film editing in programs at WNET, New York’s public television station, and Third World Cinema, actor Ossie Davis’ film company, and appearing in the Gordon Parks films “Shaft’s Big Score!” (1972) and “The Super Cops” (1974), Ms. Maple realized she longed to be behind the camera.
In 1975 she became the first African American woman to join the Cinematographers Union of New York (now called the International Cinematographers Guild), according to Indiana University’s Black Film Center and Archive. Collection of his papers and films, But, she said, the union banned her after fighting to change rules that required her to complete a lengthy apprenticeship.
“If I had waited, I would never have become a cameraman,” Ms. Maple told The New York Times for a 2016 article about women who broke barriers to work on film crews. “So I took them to court.”
She sued several New York television stations in the mid-1970s for gender and racial discrimination, and she won a case against WCBS in 1977 that earned her a trial period with the station. He blossomed into a freelance career there and at local ABC and NBC stations.
Ms Maple wrote that she encountered crew members who did not want to work with her and whispered behind her back, sometimes quite audible. But she persevered even when she got assignments that she found particularly difficult—for example, flying in a helicopter to get aerial footage on an almost daily basis, despite having motion sickness.
In 1977 Ms. Maple wrote about her experiences in “How to Be a Union Camerawoman”, a comprehensive guide to succeeding in a forbidden industry.
But as TV news shifted from film to video, Ms. Maple decided she would rather become an independent filmmaker with complete control over her work. She made short documentaries with her husband, Leroy Patton, including “Methadone: Wonder Drug or Evil Spirit?,” before turning to features.
Ms. Maple said she wants to make films about issues that are important to her community.
“I want to tell stories about things that bother me that can’t be told otherwise,” she wrote in her memoir. “I try to make use of the resources around me. Most importantly, I work to give a voice to our people and the challenges we face.
According to the Black Film Center & Archive, Ms. Maple was the first known African American woman to produce, write and direct an independent feature film. That film, “Will” (1981), follows a former college basketball player (played by Obaka Adedunyo) battling addiction who takes a 12-year-old boy to stop him from developing a habit of his own. goes. loretta devineIn his first film role, played the key role of Will.
Ms. Maple’s second feature, “Twice as Nice” (1989), was the story of twin sisters, both college basketball standouts, who are preparing to participate in a professional draft. The film starred Pamela and Paula McGee, twins who won back-to-back NCAA basketball championships at the University of Southern California but were not professional actors.
In 1982 Ms. Maple and Mr. Patton opened a theater in the basement of their brownstone on 120th Street in Harlem to show “Will” and other independent films. He called it 20 West, calling it “the home of black cinema” and showcasing films by up-and-comers such as Spike Lee. She called it off after about a decade — because, she said, she wanted to focus more on her films.
Ms. Maple’s films have achieved greater recognition in recent years than at the time of their release. The Museum of Modern Art displayed “Desire” in 2015; That same year, the Film Society of Lincoln Center (now Film at Lincoln Center) screened both of his features as part of a series titled “Tell It Like It Is: Black Independents in New York, 1968–1986”.
Ms. Maple was born February 14, 1937, in McComb, Miss., about 80 miles south of Jackson, the second oldest of 12 children. His father was a farmer, his mother a teacher and dietitian.
Her father died when she was 13, and her mother sent her and several of her siblings to the Northeast, where she attended high school.
After high school he studied medical technology and then began working in bacteriology. He eventually ran a laboratory for the Center for Joint Diseases and Medicine (now part of the New York University Hospital System) in Manhattan while the hospital administration searched for a permanent replacement, as, he wrote, he had a Ph.D. He was credited with the initial identification of a new type of bacteria; On her lunch break, she joined other, low-wage workers who were trying to organize.
It was a steady, well-paying job, but Ms. Maple, who was married and had a young daughter, grew tired of the work and left bacteriology in 1968 to pursue journalism. She was in Texas on assignment for a magazine when she met Mr. Patton, a photographer for Jet and Ebony magazines who lived in Los Angeles, and they developed a bicastle relationship.
Ms. Maple was separated from her husband; Mr. Patton was still living with his wife. In time they divorced their spouses and got married, and Mr. Patton moved to Manhattan. (Ms. Maple was sometimes billed as Jessie Maple Patton in her film work.)
Ms. Maple is survived by her husband; their daughter, Audrey Snipes; five sisters, Lorraine Crosby, Peggy Lincoln, Debbie Reed, Camilla Clark Doremus, and Stephanie Robinson; and a grandson.
Ms. Maple worked tirelessly to make her dreams come true. She supplemented her income through ventures with Mr. Patton, including two Harlem coffee shops and a line of vegan cookies made in the 1990s, which were eventually available at retailers on the East Coast.
“I was too busy working to slow down,” she wrote in her memoir. “I believe my efforts have paved the way for those behind me to work just as hard, but struggle a little less.”