Jessie Maple, a cinematographer and director who paved the way for Black women in the entertainment industry, died on Tuesday in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of 76.
The Black Film Center and Archive confirmed the news in a statement on Twitter Wednesday, saying that she “passed away peacefully, surrounded by family.”
“Her films, books, and unapologetic push to highlight discrimination and injustices within the news and entertainment industries will remain with us,” the announcement continued. “The world through Jessie’s lens offers views of humanity that are often overlooked due to race and power dynamics.”
Maple is recognized as the first Black woman to write and produce a full-length film in the post-civil rights era releasing her directorial feature debut “Will” in 1981. She was also the first Black woman to be admitted to the International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television Union in the 1970s.
Born in Louisiana in 1947, Maple worked as the head of a bacteriology and serology lab before shifting to journalism, writing for the New York Courier. After becoming the first Black woman to be admitted to the New York camera operators union, Maple worked for several years as a news camerawoman before independently releasing “Will.” The film follows a girls’ basketball coach who struggles with a heroin addiction. Maple would go on to direct the film “Twice as Nice,” another independent work that tells the story of twin female basketball players.
Maple is survived by her husband, Leroy Patton, along with her daughter Audrey Snipes, grandson Nigel Snipes, five sisters, two adopted daughters and an extensive group of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.