ActivismFilm / TV

AFROPUNK Cinema Noir: Here’s Why Jessie Maple Will Always Be Remembered As A Trailblazing Cinematographer

June 9, 2023

As artists & storytellers, we’re still recovering from the passing of legendary cinematographer, film director, and activist, Jessie Maple. It’s times like this that we should remind ourselves why she was an important figure spearheading transformation for Black women in cinematography. In the 70s as one of the very few Black woman in cinematography, Jessie broke down barriers when opportunities for women, in particular women of color we scarce. She not only defied the odds, but proved herself as a multifaceted individual who took the roles of writing, directing, and producing. Maple was not only instrumental as a figure behind the camera, but along with her husband, Leroy Patton, they cofounded LJ Films Productions and in 1982 they opened the 20 West Theater, Home of Black Cinema in Harlem, a platform for independent Black filmmakers. Being a pioneer in a male dominated industry came with its fair share of challenges. In a 2020 interview Maple recalls the struggle of being blacklisted after being admitted to the New York camera operators union, “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 decided, let me get this out the way, I sued them all at once, ABC, CBS, NBC, and I won.”

Feature Films:

Will (1981): A story about a girls’ basketball coach, who is battling his heroin addiction while raising a 12-year-old adopted boy with his wife. The film includes graphic depictions of drug use and the effect of drugs on individuals, their families, and their communities as well as the positive results of overcoming addiction.

Twice As Nice (1989): The film follows twins Caren and Camilla Parker (played by real-life twins Pamela and Paula McGee), two young college basketball stars at Columbia University, as they navigate talent, competition, and relationships while vying for the first female MBA pick.


Methadone: Wonder Drug or Evil Spirit (1976)

Black Economic Power: Reality or Fantasy (1977


How to Become a Union Camerawoman: Film-Videotape, New York, L. J. Film Productions, 1977

Maple, Jessie; Butler, Danielle E. (2019). The Maple Crew: A Memoir. Jessie Maple.