The film director that I chose to focus on is a well-respected African American film director by the name of Neema Barnette. Barnette is the first African-American woman sitcom director, and was the first African-American woman to get a three-picture deal with Sony. In 1990, she founded Harlem Girl Productions Corporation. I was introduced to Barnette’s film “Civil Brand” in the year 2009, after working on a high school project that focused on female prisons. Ever since that time, I have been intrigued with Barnette’s work after learning that she has directed successful projects that I grew up watching such as “The Cosby Show,” and “7th heaven.”
On May 8, 2012, Neema gave the opening speech at the American Film Institute’s Hollywood showcase for its Directing Workshop for Women. Neema had been selected for the workshop in the early 1970s, she was living in harlem at the time, experiencing harsh living conditions and was chosen to take part in an intensive training program that she said changed her destiny in life. During an interview with popular urban site “AllHipHop.com,” Neema Barnette describes her journey as a director and she states that her job is not only to be a filmmaker, but it is also to be a storyteller. “I got into film because I feel its one of the strongest social and political tools we have…because it was a ‘mind molding’ art,” is an quote from Barnette during the interview that illustrates her love for film. She thoroughly and continuously showcases examples of auteur through her films and television shows. Making sure that she is always the major creative force in all of her projects is what makes her the successful director that she is today. Although it was not always easy for Barnette to be able have the control and allow her work to be seen as a personal stamp of her directing abilities, she never gave up. After watching the interview, I learned that Barnette struggled to make a name for herself in the film industry. Although her projects were exceptionally constructed, she states that Hollywood was simply not interested in the type of plots that she wanted to focus on.
I decided to explore the film “Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the Seventh Day,” (2012) in which Barnette took much pride in directing. The plotline revolves around the kidnapping of a six-year-old daughter an upscale New Orleans couple, and over the course of seven days they begin to uncover secrets about their past that could rip their marriage and lives apart all while trying to find their daughter. One of the major themes in the film is women empowerment. The main character of the film illustrates great strength, and it drives home an important point that women are indeed the backbone of their families. When watching the movie a year ago, I remember a scene in which the main characters husband asks her “Were you a hoe?” During that scene I felt as if the director was trying to illustrate the many issues that women go through in terms of having to uphold a certain image, and also having to prove her sexual innocence to a man in order for him to consider her a worthy woman.
Neema Barnette identifies her role as auteur in this film by deciding to direct the film after initially feeling as if the storyline was not one that she seemed interested in. During an interview when being asked the question “How did you get involved Women Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day? Did it come to you? Did you fight for it?” Barnette answered by stating, “Well, the producers called me up and said they had a script and they weren’t interested in doing it. I read the script and I said, “hell no!” I didn’t want to do the movie.” After rethinking it, Barnette than became the major creative force for the film. She began to re-write the scenes and the roles of the characters. Barnette created a character illustrating a poor black woman whose child is also missing in the film. She wanted to show the difference between poor blacks and blacks with money, and the distinction in social classes. The poor black woman whose daughter was abducted in the film couldn’t even get her little girl’s picture in the news, while the rich couple was able to make a few phone calls in order to get thousands of people to help with the search for their child. One of the ways that Barnette constructed her ideas for the film was by arranging a meeting with the writer of the movie. After talking with him she stated that she began to find out some of the things he was interested in saying in the script, which helped her visual many elements that she wanted to showcase throughout the film. After visualizing many scenes for the movie, Barnette than began to think about certain actors that she felt would be a best fit for each of the roles. She phoned them up, sent them the script and waited for an answer from each of them. During an interview, Barnette discusses how she went about choosing one of the characters for the movie and she gave an in depth description of the process:
“I wanted Nicole to play a role in another movie I’m doing. I found her when I looked at American Violet. I said, ‘who is this sister?!’ She was brilliant. When this movie came up, I presented her and they were like, “no, she’s not this, she’s not that.” I fought so long and so hard for Nicole. Finally, they gave in and let me tell you, it was the best move they ever made.
When I went for Nicole, I went for a quality young actress who was brilliant and they maybe wanted a different kind of look. They finally were happy that I did get her. She’s one of the most brilliant people on that movie. She turned that sucker out! You hear me?! She is fabulous and I knew she would be. When I called her, I let her know that I would allow her to do things with the role that she wanted to do. I think she’s going to be one of the best new actresses to tell you the truth. Let me tell you, she’s smokin’ hot in this movie! Just like we knew she would be” – Barnette
By giving the actors/actresses the option to have input on the roles that they were chosen to play definitely showcases how open minded she is when directing a project. I feel as if the process that she used in picking actors and actresses for each role allowed her to fully take control of the project. It is very evident that Hollywood’s directors tend to make a film in their way, or in their vision and when this is the case people learn things from films and this is why it is important to recognize who is the person who wrote the screenplay, who is the person who is directing this film. After reading Maggie Humm’s “Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film,” I began to think of one of the ideas stated in the article. In regards to films, the signature of product varies significantly depending on the gender of the interpreter (Humm). In this particular film, this theory was showcased numerous times. Due to the fact that Barnette is indeed a woman, the roles and scenes that she decided to incorporate into the film definitely showcased an unmistakable personal stamp of the director. When speaking about the film, Barnette states, “I wanted the African American female character in the film to be a hero. If she can pick herself up once, she can do it again, and everybody has flaws, everybody falls down.” With this being said, the film definitely portrays a personal reflection of the way that Barnette see’s herself and how she sees many other African American women worldwide. Literature and film shape society. Maggie Humm expresses concern over the failures of film’s interpretations on novels by saying, “While more than half of all commercial films have literary origins, the coupling of auteur/author or literature/film is continually contested.” (Humm, 90) If women are in charge of making these films, society would be able to view more of situations from womens perspectives.
After raking in $1.3M at the box office,the movie received mixed reviews when it was released. Many critics believed that it was very melodramatic, while others believed that the drama and suspense is what made the movie great. Many of Barnette’s projects are viewed as being socially- and politically-charged, while also being projects that often defines the narrow stereotypes of African-Americans usually depicted in entertainment. I believe that Neema Barnette is one of the best female film directors in the business, and I feel that her films will continue to tell stories that need to be told to the world.
Humm, Maggie “Author/Autor: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film.”
Perry, Clayton “Neema Barnette: Harlemite Speaks On Being the First Black Female With a Major Studio Deal.” 16 April 2012. 26 April 2014. <http://allhiphop.com>
Martinez, Vanessa. “Exclusive! Neema Barnette Talks “On The 7th Day” Re-Writes, Casting Nicole Beharie + New Film on Boy Reincarnated as Dalai Lama.” Shadow and Act. N.p., 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/exclusive-neema-barnette-talks-on-the-7th-day-paff-premiere-upcoming-projects-more>.