The film industry and civil rights movement have lost a pioneer with the passing of Jessie Maple at the age of 76 on May 30. The Black Film Center & Archive confirmed her death in a statement. Maple was a trailblazer as the first Black woman admitted into the International Photographers of Motion Picture and Television Union. Her work as a cinematographer and director is immortalized in her 1981 independent feature film “Will,” one of the first black female-directed films released in the post-civil-rights era.
Born in Louisiana in 1947, Maple initially worked in bacteriology before turning to writing. She successfully published many stories under the Manhattan Tribune until she later received work at the Third World Cinema and Black Journal organizations. Her love for film blossomed even further after attending Ossie Davis’ Third World Cinema through the National Education Television Training School.
Maple faced racial prejudice throughout her career, including a lengthy legal battle to join the New York camera operators union. Despite being black-listed by studios, Maple persevered and ultimately succeeded in bringing more representation into the filmmaking world. She created many documentaries throughout her career, working as an editor, producer, writer, and cinematographer. Maple leaves behind her husband, three daughters, a grandson, and many nieces and nephews.