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Neema Barnette

Neema Barnette

With a vast resume of work flavored with the Urban experience, award-winning director Neema Barnette has left her unique stamp on the silver screen, the small screen and the stage. 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 legit producer Joseph Papp who, after seeing her production of The Blue Journey by Oyamo at his Public Theater and recognizing a special visual style in Barnette's work, suggested she enroll in a 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. Neema 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 ten 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); Different Worlds: An Interracial Love Story (four Daytime Emmy nominations, Directors Guild of America nomination for Best Directing); Better Off Dead (Lifetime Television production starring Mare Winningham and Tyra Ferrell which earned a Cable Ace award nomination); Run For The Dream: The Gail Devers Story (Showtime Network production starring Lou Gossett Jr. which earned Barnette her fifth NAACP Image Award nomination); Scattered Dreams (for CBS Television Network, starring Tyne Daly and Alicia Silverstone); Sin & Redemption (also for CBS; executive produced by Dick Berg), among others.

In September 2000, Barnette signed on as the director of the feature film, CIVIL BRAND starring LisaRaye, Mos Def, Da Brat, N'Bushe Wright, Monica Calhoun, MC Lyte, Reed R. McCants, and Clifton Powell. The film was shot in fifteen days and completed in May 2002. In June 2002, the film won the Blockbuster Award at the Black Audience Film Festival in Miami. In August 2002, CIVIL BRAND also won the Audience Award and was given a Special Jury Award at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City. CIVIL BRAND was selected by the American Film Institute's prestigious International Film Festival in November of 2002 in Los Angeles where it was featured in the American Directions division. Also in November of 2002, CIVIL BRAND was chosen as an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and will be featured in their American Spectrum Division. The film also opened for the Pan African International film festival and won the Festival Award.

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.

Barnette serves on the Executive Board of the DGA African American Steering Committee and is a member of The Black Filmmakers Foundation since its inception.

Barnette has operated her own production company, Harlem Lite Productions since 1987 and is Executive Director of Live Theatre Gang, an urban theatre and performance company. She lives between New York and Los Angeles with her husband Reed R. McCants and their daughter Ah'Keisha. Presently, Barnette is developing screenplays from rapper Queen Pen's new book Situations.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2003.

Neema Barnette Facts

BirthplaceNew York, New York, USA

Selected Filmography

Civil Brand
Rush To Judgement
Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day
All You've Got
The Day the Spores Landed
The Cosby Show: Season 6
It's Apparent to Everyone
It's All in the Game
Spirit Lost
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