Educational Screening: Monday, March 14th | 9:00 a.m. | Venue: TBA
Master Class: Sunday, March 20th | 9: a.m. | George Washington House
Neema Barnette Showcase: Sunday, March 20th | 5:00 p.m.
Introducing Neema Barnette
Award-winning director Neema Barnette has left her unique stamp on the silver screen, the small screen and the stage, by engaging audiences with a body of compelling, socially- and politically-charged work that defies the narrow stereotypes of African-Americans usually depicted in entertainment. She is the first African-American woman to direct a television sitcom and to receive a two picture deal with Sony.
A native of Harlem, New York, Neema Barnette broke into the entertainment business as an actor while attending New York’s High School for the Performing Arts. She was mentored into a full-time directing career on the advice of legendary producer Joseph Papp who, after seeing her production of The Blue Journey by Oyamo, and recognizing a special visual style in Barnette’s work, suggested she enroll in the Third World Cinema program. Soon after, Neema produced an after school special (To Be a Man), which won the director her first Emmy Award.
This award would launch the director onto a path of award-winning work and industry achievement. After graduating from CCNY in 1985, Barnette was awarded acceptance into the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, where she wrote, produced and directed her first film, Sky Captain, a surrealistic fantasy drama about an urban Peter Pan from the Bronx who was suicidal. This incredibly unique work earned the notice of many among the Hollywood film and television community and led to One More Hurdle, an NBC dramatic special for which Barnette won her first NAACP Image Award. Barnette also lent her vision to a network documentary on domestic violence for NBC, The Silent Crime, which received four local Emmy nominations and won an American Women in Radio & Television award for directing.
In 1986, with a flair for the lighthearted as well as the dramatic, Barnette directed an episode of What’s Happening Now, which earned her yet another NAACP Image Award nomination. More significantly, the job made Neema the first African-American woman in the history of television ever to direct a sitcom.
She went on to direct a wide array of work for television, including episodes of Hooperman, The Royal Family, China Beach (Peabody Award), Frank’s Place (Emmy Award), Seventh Heaven, Diagnosis Murder, A Different World and multiples of The Cosby Show (Emmy Award) and The Cosby Mysteries (Peabody nomination).
On the heels of work on an episode of Cosby, Barnette mounted a new play at the Manhattan Theater Club. The Talented Tenth received such early acclaim that the producers decided to open their Off Broadway season with it. It soon won 10 Adelco Awards, including Best Director. Also that year, Barnette won an International Monitor Award for Best Director on The Cosby Show episode, The Day the Spores Landed.
Barnette went on to direct several other movies for television, most noteworthy among them Zora is My Name! (American Playhouse production starring Ruby Dee, which won a Lilly Award for Exceptional Representation of African-American Images in Film). Set in the rural South in the ’30s and ’40s, the drama depicts the life of groundbreaking African-American writer, filmmaker and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. The special also starred Lou Gossett, Beah Richards, Lynn Whitfield, Oscar Brown Jr., Olu Dara and Paula Kelly.
Other made-for-TV movies she would direct include Different Worlds: An Interracial Love Story (four Daytime Emmy nominations, Directors Guild of America nomination for Best Directing); Better Off Dead (Lifetime Television production, which earned a Cable Ace award nomination); Run For the Dream: The Gail Devers Story (Showtime Network, starring Lou Gossett Jr., earning Barnette her fifth NAACP Image Award nomination); Scattered Dreams (for CBS); and, Sin & Redemption (also for CBS), among others.
In 1996, producer Gilbert Cates hired Barnette as a professor at UCLA’s School of Film & Television in 1996, where she teaches a master directing class to the day graduate film students for two months of each year. In September 2002, Barnette also began teaching a master director class in the graduate degree program at USC. And in 2009, Ms. Barnette became an adjunct professor at NYU Film School in the Sight & Sound Program of Filmmaking and Directing.
Ms. Barnette serves on the Executive Board of the DGA African-American Steering Committee and is a member of the Black Filmmakers Foundation. Since 1987, she has run Harlem Lite Productions (her own production company) and is Executive Director of Live Theatre Gang — an urban theatre and performance company that mentors young people. It was founded to provide opportunities for young urban actors.
Neema lives between New York and Los Angeles with her husband Reed R. McCants and their daughter Ah’Keisha. Presently, she is developing screenplays from rapper Queen Pen’s new book, Situations, and a feature for Wild at Heart Films.