Jessie Maple

Jessie Maple

The Life and Contribution of Jessie Maple

  • 1947 – Born in Louisiana to a family of four brothers and seven sisters.
  • 1960’s – 1970’s – Works as a an acting supervisor in a bacteriology lab in Philadelphia and later in New York.
  • 1970 – Began writing for the New York Courier and started “Jessie’s Grapevine” a column where she interviewed new up and coming personalities and entertainers in New York.
  • 1972 – Trained at WNET-13’s “Black Journal” and 1973 in Third World Cinema, is qualified to become a member of the editing union IATSE Local 771


  • 1972 – Was an film editor in Shaft’s Big Score 
  • 1973- 1974 – Upon her request, Mrs. Maple’s husband Leroy Patton, a union cameraman, shows her the union requirements to become an assistant cameraman. She goes to rental houses and learns all about the 16mm and 35mm cameras available.
  • 1974 – Takes the IATSE exam to become a camera assistant, the exam proctor sabotages her, Leroy being in the room, asks for a meeting with the director and points out the foul play. She is allowed to retake the test and she passes, gaining entrance into the union. 
  • 1975 – Requests to take the test to become a cameraman, she passes and becomes the first African American Woman to join the Union of International Photographers of Motion Pictures and TV (IATSE Local 644) in NY as a cameraperson.


  • Works as a camera assistant and later as a camera operator and editor for ABC, CBS, and NBC in New York.

    Jessie Maple soon after joining the union.

  • 1977 – Opens a legal complaint to the Commission of Human Rights on CBS for discriminatory hiring practices based on race and sex. This legal procedure is one of many throughout her career, Jessie Maple never kept quiet when faced with discrimination.
  • Co-Founds, with her husband Leroy Patton, LJ Film Productions Inc., which produces documentaries and feature films.


Grant Proposal for “Black Economic Power: Reality or Fantasy?” (1976).

  • 1976 – Produces the documentary “Black Economic Power: Reality or Fantasy? ” and is later awarded a grant for $9,731.48 from The Film Fund in September of 1978 .
  • 1977 Writes the book How to Become a Union Camera Woman  Film – Videotape
  • 1981 Directs and Produces “Will,” the first feature length film directed by an African American Woman.
  • Establishes “20 West,”  a theatre for black and independent cinema in Harlem. “20 West” shows indie black films from around the country and becomes a hub for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work. The New York Women in Film and Television calls Maple’s work “a forerunner of the independent, minority filmmaking that would cultivate directors like Spike Lee, Charles Burnett, Leslie Harris and Lee Daniels.” The Theatre ran for ten years. 
  • Maple is always inclined to hire ‘unknown’ talent believing that you never know how they will end up tomorrow.

    Maple directing on the set of “Will”

  • Maple donates her personal collection of films and documents to the Black Film Center/Archive in the Indiana University, Bloomington 




How To Become a Union Camerawoman: Film/Video

Book Synopsis

  • Jessie Maple describes her journey into filmmaking. She began as a medical technician in bacteriology and works in the medical field for 10 years. She then goes on to write meeting influential people that help her rise. She decides she wants to join the IATSE local 644 and begins to train her self by going to rental houses. 
  • She explains the many battles against sexism and racism she had to endure to achieve IATSE member status as the first African American Camerawoman.
  • The fight didn’t end there, she began a series of many Human Rights Law suits against CBS, while describing in detail her struggle to find stable work in the NY TV stations even though she was a union member.
  • She describes the business of filmmaking and what it takes to get in the door as a minority. She advices for us to take our free time to learn the things we ultimately want to achieve and to persevere through all the indignation and hardship that the gatekeepers will surely enforce. 
  • She explains in great detail the things that a camera person, camera assistant, sound technician, and editor must know before they take the union exam.
  • Lists places to find training and jobs, underlines the essential maneuvers one must do to get through the union/industry hurdles.


Inspirational Excerpts from the book

“I Just want women and minorities to know what the people in unionized film will tell you repeatedly that you can’t make it in this business. But just like a need exists for new, exciting movie stars so a need exists for new, creative cinematographers. Just don’t let the union people turn you away with all their negativism.” (52)
“Free time is a godsend. So use it. No matter what position your entree into the door, remember use as much free time as possible in the department of your interest. But do it quietly. Discussing your plans with everyone can be a downfall, since this is an extremely competitive field, with newcomers seen as a threat by the working union technicians.” (58)

The Making of “Will”

  • “Will” was shot on location in Harlem, New York in the 1980’s
  • Shot on 16mm film with a $9,000 budget
  • Received a Special Merit Award at the Athens International Film Festival.
  • Showcases Harlem as a self sufficient but an imperfect community
  • Underlines that Harlem is built by these family support systems, and that salvation comes from within.

From the film “Will” 1981

“ Where there’s a will, there’s a way”


  • Will, a former basketball player trying to overcome a heroin addiction decides to mentor an at risk 12 Year old boy and attempts to regenerate his life and his family.
  • It shows an unapologetic portrayal of underage drug use, that is rampant and overcoming of the black male youth.
  • Showcases a sense of consciousness as a systematic cycle, from community to the individual and back to the community.
  • Innocence overpowered, death and hidden culpability, Will will never know it wasn’t Little Brother’s fault: Wife says, “It wasn’t little brother’s fault”
  • Message: No matter the situation, man can always overcome, and “Ascend to higher ground.”

These are the first two pages of the first draft script of “Will” originally titled ‘Higher Ground.’



From the film “Twice as Nice” 1989

 1981 – Will

1989 – Twice as Nice


 1976 – Methadone: Wonder Drug or Evil Spirit 

 1977 – Black Economic Power: Reality or Fantasy 


2003 –  Sisters in Cinema ( as herself)

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