Director and producer Neema Barnette has engaged audiences with a bodyof socially compelling and politically charged work that defies thenarrow stereotypes of African-Americans usually depicted inentertainment. Working in both television and film, Barnette has earnedthe respect of peers and critics alike by winning countless accolades. Barnette recently directed the feature Woman Thou Art Loosed On the 7thDay. The film stars Pam Grier, Blair Underwood, Nicole Jarbari andSharon Leal and is produced by Neema, Bishop TD Jakes of Jumpin theBroom and Sparkle, and Code Black Entertainment.
The movie is adramatic thriller that explores problems in modern day marriage and theabduction of a little girl. The AMC theater chain theatrically releasedthe feature on April 13th on 129 screens. It premiered as number onefor per screen average opening weekend, beating out The Hunger Games. In January 2013, the film was one of three pictures nominated for "BestIndependent Feature" by the NAACP Image Awards. Known for her creativity, in 2010 Neema directed a gospel musical film,Heaven Ain't Hard to Find, starring Kim Whitley, Cliff Powell & ReedMcCants.
Neema developed a new format for gospel plays by shootingactual locations and combined theater with cinema. The picture aired onpaid preview, HBO and BET. In 2008, Neema executive produced Cuttin DaMustard, an independent feature written and directed by Reed McCants. The film is a comedy but deals seriously with young adult illiteracyand stars Brandon T. Jackson, Sinbad, Charles Dutton, Adrienne Bailon,Keisha Knight Pulliman, Lil Zane, Jonathan Wesley and Chico Benyman.
Barnette began 2007 by directing the film My Super Sweet 16: the Moviefor MTV Paramount. The picture stars rockers Aly & AJ and singer Ciara. In July 2006, Neema directed the feature film All You've Got for MTVParamount Films starring Laila Ali and Faizon Love. For the mini-series Miracle's Boys produced in 2005 for the Nogginnetwork by filmmaker Spike Lee, Neema was the only female directorinvited to join Spike's directing team along with Laver Burton, ErnestDickerson and Bill Duke. The project aired in February of that year torave reviews.
Barnette, a native of Harlem New York, began her career as a stageactress while attending New York's High School for the Performing Arts. After earning a BA from The City College of New York, and an MFA fromNYU School of The Arts, she subsequently took a position in VinnetteCarroll's prestigious "Urban Arts Corps" as an actress and directedinner city kids in plays designed to enhance their reading skills. Itwas then that Neema fell in love with directing. At twenty-one, Neemamade her directing debut at Joseph Papps' Public Theatre with THE BLUEJOURNEY by Oyamo. Finding cinema in her work, Papp suggested she enrollin a Third World Cinema program.
After graduating from the program,Neema produced an after school special titled TO BE A MAN for ABCTelevision, for which she won her first Emmy Award. This award would launch the director onto a path of award-winning workand industry achievement. After graduating from CCNY in 1985, Barnettewas awarded acceptance into the American Film Institute's DirectingWorkshop for Women, where she wrote, produced and directed her firstfilm, Sky Captain, a surrealistic fantasy drama about an urban PeterPan from the Bronx who was suicidal. This incredibly unique work earnedthe notice of many among the Hollywood film and television community,and led to One More Hurdle an NBC dramatic special for which Barnettewon her first NAACP Image Award. Barnette also lent her vision to anetwork documentary on domestic violence for NBC, The Silent Crime,which received four local Emmy nominations and won an American Women inRadio & 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 heran NAACP image awards nomination. More significantly, the job madeNeema the first African American woman in the history of television todirect a sitcom. This critical breakthrough resulted in subsequentdirecting stints on Hooperman, the royal family, china beach (Peabodyaward), franks place (Emmy award), the sinbad show, diagnosis murder,multiples of a different world, the Cosby show (Emmy award) and theCosby mysteries (Emmy nomination, Peabody nomination), and seventhheaven and the Gilmore girls. On the heels of work on an episode of Cosby, Barnette mounted a new playby Richard Wesley at the Manhattan Theatre Club, The Talented Tenth. The success of the workshop production propelled Lynn Meadows to openher off Broadway season with the play with Neema as director.
That yearthe play won 10 Adelco Awards, including Best Director. Also that year,Barnette won an International Monitor Award for Best Director for TheCosby Show episode, 'The Day the Spores Landed. 'Barnette went on to direct several other movies for television, mostnoteworthy among them, ZORA IS MY NAME (American Playhouse productionstarring Ruby Dee which won a Lilly Award for ExceptionalRepresentation of African American Images in Film); DIFFERENT WORLDS:AN INTERRACIAL LOVE STORY (four Daytime Emmy nominations, DirectorsGuild of America nomination for Best Directing); BETTER OFF DEAD(Lifetime Television production starring Mare Winningham and TyraFerrell which earned a Cable Ace award nomination); RUN FOR THE DREAM:THE GAIL DEVERS STORY (Showtime Network production starring Lou GossettJr. which earned Barnette her fifth NAACP Image Award nomination);SCATTERED DREAMS (for CBS Television Network, starring Tyne Daly andAlicia Silverstone); SIN & REDEMPTION (also for CBS; executive producedby Dick Berg), among others. The critical acclaim and success of the pictures catapulted Neema intothe ranks of a handful of sought after directors whose telefilmsbrought in high ratings.
It also garnered the attention of Frank Price,then chairman of Sony Pictures, who gave Barnette a two-yearhousekeeping deal to produce, write and direct Listen for the Fig Tree,an original screenplay. This was the second time Neema made history. She became the first African American woman to receive a productionDEAL at a major motion picture studio. Neema's three-year deal includeddeveloping film and television projects for the studio. In September of 2000, Barnette signed on as the director and producer ofthe feature film Civil Brand starring LisaRaye, Mos Def, Da Brat,N'Bushe Wright, Monica Calhoun, MC Light, Reed McCants and CliftonPowell.
The film was shot in fifteen days and was completed in May2002. In June 2002, the film won the Blockbuster Award at the BlackAudience Film Festival in Miami. In August 2002, CIVIL BRAND also wonthe Audience Award and was given a Special Jury Award at the UrbanWorld Film Festival in New York City. The American Film Institute'sprestigious International Film Festival selected Civil Brand inNovember of 2002 in Los Angeles where it was featured in the AmericanDirections division. Also in November of 2002, Civil Brand was chosenas an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and is featuredin their American Spectrum Division.
The film opened for the PanAfrican International film festival and won the Festival Award. Producer Gilbert Cates hired Barnette as a Professor at UCLA's School ofFilm & Television in 1999, where she teaches a master filmmaking classto the under graduate film students and has created a syllabus andteaches for the MFA Theater department. Neema has been teaching at UCLAfor fifteen years and still teaches there. In September of 2002 Neemaalso became an associate professor at the USC School of Cinema whereshe taught film production, television development and directing toundergraduate students for seven years while continuing herprofessional directing and producing career. In February 2004, Women in Film honored Neema along with Diane Carrolland Delores Robinson at their Breaking Ground Breakfast in BeverlyHills.
On November 30, 2009 in New York City, Congressman CharlesRangel declared Neema Barnette Day in her hometown of Harlem. Neema hasbeen featured in American Film, Dga Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Vogue,Business Weekly, Hollywood Reporter and other periodicals. Barnette serves on the Executive Board of the DGA African AmericanSteering Committee and is a member of The Black Filmmakers Foundationsince its inception. She is also an active AFI alumnus and serves onthe panel of the AFI Independent Film committee. Barnette has operatedher own production company, Hope Entertainment since 1990 and isExecutive Director of Live Theatre Gang, an urban theatre andperformance company.
She lives between New York and Los Angeles withher husband Reed R. McCants and their daughter. .