“I invest in myself and I make my films”: Jessie Maple on breaking boundaries and filmmaking [Audio]

Director Jessie Maple is a true trailblazer: the first African-American woman to join the International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television union, she also established a long-running venue for independent Black filmmakers in her own home. 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.

On January 31, 2020 Block Cinema welcomed Maple for a screening and conversation on filmmaking and her new memoir The Maple Crew, which reflects on these achievements. The evening featured Maple’s film Twice as Nice (1989.) Rarely seen for decades after its debut the film was recently restored by the Black Film Center/Archive with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation, using long-missing elements discovered at a film lab.

The evening was presented as part of the Block Cinema Series, Hidden Figures. Drawing on the example of the 2019–2020 One Book One Northwestern selection, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space, Block Cinema presents a yearlong series celebrating the history of women of color behind the camera. Featuring rarely screened films and in-depth discussions with filmmakers and historians, these programs also seek to champion the scholars, educators, curators, and archivists who work to make these histories visible today.

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From the Interview

“I had to get in fast and I didn’t have time to be an assistant for 20 years. I think it took me about two years to get the experience. And so when I first started, I got to be assistant cameraperson.

And then I said, “Oh no, I want to be a cameraperson. I want to be top dog. I want to go.” Then as I got into it, I said I want to change my card and I want to be a camerawoman. So, that was a whole another thing.

After I passed the test and got into the cameraman’s union, then they told the studios not to hire me and blacklisted me.

I decided, well, I’m going to fight this. I knew when you get ready to do something and you’re going to fight for it, you have to know what you’re doing. I knew, I knew it. I know how to do it and I knew all the cameras and so that’s why I took on the union.

And I did something crazy. I decided, let me get this out the way, I sued them all at once, ABC, CBS, NBC, and I won.

I worked myself up from them considering me not be able to do the job to the top camera in local news. I did news and documentary. I worked myself up to being number one. Then I said to them, “You need money, and there’s a whole bunch of women who want to be in the union, just open it up to everybody and let them come in if they can do the job.”

Images from the evening

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