Barrier-breaking filmmaker Jessie Maple Patton dies at 86

Her work as a director and cinematographer significantly impacted Black women's access to entertainment and news.

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Pioneering Black filmmaker Jessie Maple Patton, who worked on projects that included “Shaft’s Big Score” passed away this week in Atlanta at age 86, Variety reports.

Patton’s family released a statement confirming she was surrounded by loved ones when she died peacefully at her home on May 30. 

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Patton’s work as a director and cinematographer significantly impacted Black women’s access to entertainment and news. She is the “first Black woman to write and produce a full-length film independently,” in a post-civil rights America, according to the family’s statement via the Black Film Center & Archive on Twitter.

In the 1970s, Patton became the first Black woman to join the International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television Union. In her book “How to Become a Union Camerawoman,” Patton recounts the lengthy legal battle that preceded her admission into the New York camera operators union, Variety reports. She was also a member of the Film Editor’s Union and the Cinematographer’s Union, according to a 1976 Ebony profile

“Her films, books, and unapologetic push to highlight discrimination and injustices with the news and entertainment industries will remain with us,” the family’s statement continued. 

Prior to becoming a journalist for the New York Courier, the Louisiana native ran a bacteriology and serology laboratory during the 1960s and 1970s, Variety reports. After attending Ossie Davis’ Third World Cinema at the National Education Television Training School, Patton turned her attention to the entertainment industry. 

The Smith Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History (NMAAHC/Smithsonian) is digitizing Patton’s 1981 independent feature film, “Will,” which features Loretta Devine, reported.

Patton and her husband, Leroy Patton, founded LJ Productions and operated a venue in Harlem that screened films by independent Black filmmakers, according to Variety. 

“One of the first Black woman filmmakers to complete a feature length film — is a giant. Her advocacy, mentorship, and care has touched generations of Black filmmakers. Her passing is a true, deep loss,” tweeted Maya Cade, creator and curator for Black Film Archive.

Patton is survived by her husband and daughter, Audrey Snipes, as well as a grandson, five sisters, two adopted daughters, and several nieces and nephews, Variety reports.

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