BHMDs Neema Barnette Returns to Episodic Television with Being Mary Jane
Prominent, innovative and prolific, director and producer Neema Barnette has engaged audiences with a body of socially-compelling and politically-charged work that defies the narrow stereotypes of African-Americans usually depicted in entertainment. Working in both television and film, Barnette has earned the respect of peers and critics alike by winning countless accolades.
Earlier this year, Neema had the opportunity to direct two episodes of BET's hit television series, “Being Mary Jane”, starring the versatile and talented actress, Gabrielle Union. The two episodes will be premiering on November 10th and November 17th, at 10pm on Tuesday nights. Barnette episodes boast a star studded guest starring cast as well. Audiences will be treated to the appearances of singing sensations, Jill Scott and Kelly Rowland.
Below is an exclusive Black History Mini Docs interview, we asked Neema about her experiences returning to episodic television directing and here's what she had to say.
HOW DID IT FEEL TO GET BACK INTO DIRECTING EPISODIC AFTER LEAVING TO DO FEATURE FILMS?
NEEMA: It felt great! It was a challenge and still is attempting to break back into directing episodic television but I was determined to do it! I only wish there were more Black female directors directing episodic TV. There’s; Debbie (Allen), who is also a show runner on Grey's Anatomy, there’s Millicent Sheldon who seems to be doing quite well, and the talented new comers, Regina King and En’Zinga Stewart both of whom I am quite proud. Regina King also directed two episodes of Being Mary Jane and she is terrific. Not only is she a talented director, she’s a terrific actress and a wonderful person. We both have Mara and Selim Brock and BET for hiring Black female directors. It doesn’t happen often enough.
DID YOU ENJOY DIRECTING BEING MARY JANE?
NEEMA: I loved it! What a joy working with Mara and Gabrielle and the entire cast and crew! I was a big fan of the show because of the great writing and the social and political issues the show deals with so when they called me I ran in with bells on! I just can’t direct something unless I feel it matters and represents Black people and women in a balanced way.
HOW WAS IT WORKING WITH JILL SCOTT?
NEEMA: WOW, what CAN I SAY, I WAS WORKING WITH AN ICON. I love Jill and what her music represents, from romance to social messages, Jill ROCKS. She is a great actress and together, along with Mara, we carved a wonderful character. Mara knows talent!
IN YOUR 2ND EPISODE I HEARD YOU HAVE KELLY ROWLAND IN IT.
NEEMA: Yes! I am also a big fan of hers and I think she’s an exceptional talent. There’s quite a few celebrity cameos in my 2nd episode, you’ll have to watch and see!
WHAT ABOUT YOUR EPISODES CAN WE LOOK FORWARD TO?
NEEMA: You can look forward to Mary Jane becoming happier in her own skin. She’s beginning to pick up the pieces of her difficult past and trust herself more. She laughs more, she has some fun and she is also forced listen to her real internal voice and questions several of her actions. The great thing about it is Mary Jane stops being so hard on herself. Often we Black woman feel guilty when we simply experience certain facets of life. Mary Jane evolves by accepting her desires, her mistakes and her triumphs. It’s called being human!
DO YOU THINK THE SHOW WILL GO ANOTHER SEASON?
NEEMA: I really hope it does. There’s nothing like it on television. It’s style that the Brock created is unique and the subject matter is essential to our existence so I pray it keep s going. Mara Brock is a very important voice for us and she needs to keep being heard.
WHAT’S NEXT UP FOR YOU NEEMA?
NEEMA: Who knows! I’d love to direct another block of the show if it’s picked. Up. The shows are now doing what they call cross blocking, which is shooting two episodes at one time. At first I was confused then I created what I now call an emotional beat sheet, which I tracked the emotion of each character for each c=show so when I got confused, I simply glanced at my beat sheet and I remembered where we should be emotionally for that scene and episode. In fact I passed the idea on the Regina!
I’m writing a script on Ida B. Wells Barnett, working with my husband on Black History Mini Docs, which is something, we created to keep our history alive. They are 90-second docs on Black historical figures as well as those warriors who are making a difference and standing up now. We call it Black History cliff notes for the digital age.
We just sold a pilot to CBS for the Kings (The Good Wife) that my husband Reed R. McCants and Richard Gant wrote about religion and politics in Harlem. Carl Franklin is our partner and he will direct the pilot.
Other than that, I’m enjoying life, my family and the progress we are making in cinema. Ava DuVernay is kicking ass with her independent spirit and I am so so proud of her and all the other Black women filmmakers who are doing big Th’angs! It makes my sacrifices and often-difficult battles in my career all worth it. Our (Black women filmmakers) future looks bright and I always have hope.
After all, Hope was my mothers name, so how could I not (have hope).
Neema changed the game by becoming the FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN IN TELEVISION TO DIRECT A SITCOM and the FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO RECEIVE A THREE PICTURE DEAL FROM A MAJOR STUDIO in history. Neema has directed over 50 hours of network television, 10 movies for television and four feature films including CIVIL BRAND and WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED ON THE 7th DAY.
Neema Barnette has won many Best Directing awards including a EMMY AWARD and several Emmy Nominations, a Directors Guild of America Award, an NAACP Image Award & 3 Nominations, the Delta Lilly Award, an Adelco Award, a International Monitor Award for THE COSBY SHOW and the PEABODY AWARD.
Her most recent feature film “WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED ON THE 7th DAY” received an NAACP IMAGE AWARD nomination for BEST INDEPENDENT FEATURE in 2012 Neema’s feature films have also garnered awards. CIVIL BRAND won the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) HBO Audience Blockbuster Award, the Urban World Film Festival Audience & Best Picture Award and was an official selection of both the Sundance & AFI Film Festivals. In addition, Neema is the very proud receiptant of The Peabody Award, Reel Sistas Trailblazer Award and the Sojourner Truth Award at Cannes.
Set your calendars to watch Black History Mini Docs' Neema Barnette in her return to directing episodic television with two back-to-back episodes of Being Mary Jane, starring Gabrielle Union and featuring Jill Scott and Kelly Rowland. November 10th and November 17th, Tuesday Night at 10PM and 11PM on BET. Don't forget to set your DVRs as well.
For more info about the show log onto; http://www.bet.com/shows/being-mary-jane.html
Barnette the director name plate
Barnette on the set with Jill Scott
The 15th ANNIVERSARY OF CIVIL BRAND
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