Prominent, innovative and prolific, director and producer Neema Barnette has engaged audiences with a body of compelling socially- and politically-charged work that defies the narrow stereotypes of African-Americans usually depicted in entertainment. Working in both television and film, Neema has earned the respect of peers and critics alike by winning countless accolades.
Neema’s most recent film was ”Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day” (2012), her 11th movie and third for theatrical release. The film starred Pam Grier, Blair Underwood, Nicole Jarbari and Sharon Leal and was produced by Barnette and Bishop T.D. Jakes, of “Jumpin’ The Broom” and Sony Pictures “Sparkle,” with Codeblack Entertainment.
The movie is a dramatic thriller that explores problems in modern marriage and the abduction of a little girl. The AMC theater chain theatrically released the feature on 129 screens. It was number one per screen average in its opening weekend, beating out “The Hunger Games.” The film was released on DVD in September 2012.
Known for her creativity and innovation, in 2009 Neema directed a gospel musical film, “Heaven Ain’t Hard to Find,” starring Kim Whitley, Cliff Powell and Reed McCants. Neema developed a new format for gospel plays, shooting actual locations and combining theater with cinema. The picture aired on paid preview, HBO and BET.
Neema began 2007 by directing the feature film “Super Sweet 16: The Movie” for MTV Paramount. The picture stars rockers Alyi and AJ Michalka and singer Serria and was released in May 2007.
In 2006, Neema executive produced “Cuttin' Da Mustard,” an independent feature written and directed by Reed McCants. The film is a comedy but deals seriously with young adult illiteracy and stars Brandon T. Jackson, Sinbad, Charles Dutton, Adrienne Bailon, Keisha Knight Pulliman, Lil Zane, Jonathan Wesley and Chico Benyman.
In July 2005, Neema directed her ninth feature film, “All You’ve Got,” for MTV Paramount Films. The picture was released in May of 2006. The mini series “Miracle Boys,” produced in 2005 for The N (now TeenNick) by filmmaker Spike Lee, marks Neema’s ninth movie directed for the small screen. She was the only female director invited to join Spike’s directing team along with Laver Burton, Ernest Dickerson and Bill Duke. The project aired in February, 2005, to rave reviews.
Barnette, a native of Harlem, New York, began her career as a stage actress while attending New York’s High School of the Performing Arts. While earning a BA from The City College of New York, and an MFA from NYU Tosch School of The Arts, she subsequently took a position in Vinnette Carroll’s prestigious Urban Arts Corps as an actress and directed inner city kids in plays designed to enhance their reading skills. It was then that Neema fell in love with directing.
At twenty-one, Neema made her directing debut at Joseph Papps’ Public Theatre with “The Blue Journey” by Oyamo. Finding cinema in her work, Papp suggested she enroll in a Third World Cinema program. After graduating from the program, Neema produced the after school special “To Be a Man” for ABC Television, for which she won her first Emmy® Award.
She 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 teen suicide. The title character is an urban Peter Pan from the South Bronx who jumps from roofs of abandoned buildings onto mattresses. The film’s innovative style and unmistakable originality propelled Neema into the vanguard of Hollywood’s film and television community.
”One More Hurdle,” an NBC dramatic special, won Neema her first NAACP Image® Award for her directing efforts. “The Silent Crime,” an NBC documentary on domestic violence, received four local Emmy® nominations and Neema won an American Women in Radio and Television Award for directing. The episode of “What’s Happening Now” that Neema directed won her a NAACP Image® Award nomination. It also made her the first African-American woman in the history of television to direct a sitcom. This critical breakthrough resulted in subsequent directing stints on “Hooperman,” “The Royal Family,” “China Beach” (Peabody Award), “Frank’s Place (Emmy® Award), “The Sinbad Show,” “Diagnosis Murder, “A Different World” and multiple episode of “The Cosby Show.”
While directing an episode for Cosby in which Mr. Cosby gets pregnant, “The Day The Spores Landed” (International Monitor® Award for Best Director), Neema mounted a new play by Richard Wesley at the Manhattan Theatre Club, “The Talented Tenth.” The success of the workshop production propelled Lynn Meadows to open her off-Broadway season with the play, with Neema as director. That year the play won 10 Audelco® Awards, including Best Director.
The unique cinematic style in the direction of “The Talented Tenth” caught the eye of Lindsay Law, head of American Playhouse, who offered Neema a Playhouse production “Zora is My Name,” starring Ruby Dee and Lou Gossett. The Delta Society awarded Neema their prestigious Lilly® Award for exceptional representation of African American images in film. An offer from David Putnam at Sony Pictures to participate in his “New Directors Program” soon followed. Neema was given a two-picture deal on Sony’s lot. Along with Umberto Paseline, Neema developed a feature film to direct, “Listen For The Fig Tree”. Ironically, Neema was signed by the Creative Artists Agency as Mr. Putnam was leaving Columbia. She has remained a client for thirteen years.
Barnette’s work on a CBS after school special “Different Worlds: A Story of Interracial Love” received four Daytime Emmy® nominations and got Neema a prestigious Directors Guild of America Nomination as Best Director. It also brought her to the attention of the telefilm community.
Gloria Steinman and Roselyn Heller hired Neema to direct “Better Off Dead,” a motion picture for Lifetime starring Mare Winningham and Tyra Ferrell. The film was nominated for a Cable Ace® Award. The critical acclaim and success of the picture catapulted Neema into the ranks of the handful of sought after directors whose telefilms brought in high ratings.
It also got her the attention of Frank Price, then chairman of Sony Pictures, who gave her a three-year housekeeping deal to produce, write and direct “Listen for the Fig Tree,” an original screenplay. This was the second time Neema made history, becoming the first African-American woman to get a deal at a major motion picture studio. Neema directed the television feature “Scattered Dreams” for CBS, starring Tyne Daley and Gerald McCrainey, and cast Alicia Silverstone as Daley’s daughter. Critics raved and gave it an “A” in People Magazine.
Producer Dick Berg, father of Jeff Berg, CEO of ICM Talent Agency, hired Neema to direct another CBS feature movie “Sin and Redemption.” The picture garnished critical acclaim and was released theatrically abroad. Later, Neema worked with Rob Estes on an ABC movie, “Close to Danger,” and directed a feature for video release for Artisan Films, “Spirit Lost,” staring Regina Taylor, Cynda Williams and Leon.
Mr. Bill Cosby contracted her to direct several episodes of his one-hour detective series for NBC, “The Cosby Mysteries. “ For one episode she directed the show received a Peabody® and Emmy® Award. Viacom’s event Olympic telepicture produced for the ShowTime Network, “Run For the Dream: The Gail Devers Story,” marked her 7th movie directed for the small screen. The critically acclaimed picture stars Charlene Woodard and Academy Award® winner Louis Gossett Jr. and earned Neema her 5th NAACP Image® Award nomination. Neema also directed multiple episodes of “7th Heaven” for Spelling Productions and of “Diagnosis Murder,” starring Dick Van Dyke for Viacom.
In September of 2003, Neema signed on as Director and Producer of the feature film “Civil Brand,” starring Lisa Rae, Mos Def, Da Brat, N’Bushe Wright, Monica Calhoun, MC Light, Reed McCants and Clifton Powell. In June 2002, the film won the Blockbuster Audience Award at The Black American Film Festival in Miami. In August 2002, “Civil Brand” also won the Audience Award and Special Jury Award at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City. “Civil Brand” was an official selection of the AFI Film Festival in November 2002 in Los Angeles where it was featured in the American Directions division. in January, 2003, “Civil Brand” was an official selection of the Sundance film festival and was featured in their Spectrum division. “Civil Brand” was the opening night gala feature for the 2003 Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles and won the Festival Award at Pan-African Film Festival in February, 2003, and Neema received the Sojourner Truth Award. In April 2003, "Civil Brand" was an official selection of the Philadelphia Film Festival and won the Audience Award at the Roxbury Black Film Festival in Boston. “Civil Brand” is featured in the spring/summer issue of “French International Men's Vogue” and also accepted into the Denmark International Film Festival in November, 2004. Lion’s Gate Films released “Civil Brand” theatrically. Neema has been featured in American Film, DGA Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Vogue, Business Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter and other periodicals concerning her work with “Civil Brand.” Before the theatrical release of “Civil Brand,” Neema directed episode five of the popular Warner Brothers show “Gilmore Girls.”
In March of 2006, the Reel Sistas of the Diaspora and NY Women in Film awarded Neema the “Trailblazer Award” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Because of Neema’s extensive background in television, the legendary Director/Producer of The Academy Awards&treg;, Gilbert Cates, hired Neema as a Professor at TFT in 1997. For fifteen years, Neema has been teaching television directing and producing for multi-camera and single camera, both undergraduate and graduate level classes. In September 2002 Neema also became an associate professor at the USC School of Cinema where she taught film production, television development and directing to undergraduate students for seven years, while continuing her professional directing and producing career.
Neema serves on the DGA African American Steering Committee and has been a member of The Black Filmmakers Foundation since its inception. She is an active AFI alumnus and serves on the panel of the AFI Independent Film committee. She was on the executive board of the IFP Gordon Parks Scholarship fund and is a judge for the NAACP Feature Film Award and serves yearly as a judge for the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. She was one of ten prestigious artists selected to judge the American Film Institute’s “Best Films Award” in 2002.
In February 2004, Women in Film honored Neema, along with Diane Carroll and Delores Robinson, at their Breaking Ground Breakfast in Beverly Hills. On November 30th, 2009 in New York City, Congressman Charles Rangel declared Neema Barnette Day in her hometown of Harlem. Over 1000 fans gathered to pay tribute to Neema’s talent, success and making history by being the first Back Woman to ever-direct a sitcom and to garner a housekeeping deal with a major studio.
Neema operates her own production company, Hope Entertainment, and is Executive Director of Live Theatre Gang, a young urban theatre and performance company. She lives between New York and Los Angeles with her husband, actor Reed McCants, and daughter, playwright Ah’Keisha McCants.
Neema has just completed writing the screenplay “When All Is Said and Done,” adapted from a short story by rapper/writer Queen Pen.
She is a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America.
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