Jessie Maple Patton (1937-2023)

Mississippi counties
Mississippi counties
Image courtesy

Jessie Maple Patton, a pioneer for African American women in the film industry, was born on February 14, 1937, in McComb, Mississippi. There were 11 children in the Maple family, including sisters Lorrain Maple Crosby, Peggy Maple Lincoln, Debbie Maple Reed, Camilla Maple Clarke Doremus, and Stephanie Maple Robinson.

Jessie graduated from the financially neglected, all-Black Benjamin Franklin High School in the heart of North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1955. Afterward, she worked in a bacteriology and serology laboratory in Philadelphia before writing for the New York Courier in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1972, Patton received film training through the renowned African American film and playwright Ossie Davis’s The Third World Cinema Corporation, established to promote film roles for actors of color. In addition, she participated in hands-on training behind-the-scenes camera jobs with the National Education Television Training School operated by WNET public television in New York City.

That year, Patton became an apprentice film editor for Ernest Tidyman’s movie Shaft’s Big Score, directed by Gordon Parks. In 1974, she edited Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s The Super Cops, also directed by Parks. Patton was the first African American woman to join the New York Camera Operator’s Union (1973) and the Union of International Photographers of Motion Picture & Television (IATSE) in New York (1975). 

Patton published How to Become a Union Camerawoman, Film-Videotape with LJ Film Productions in 1977 when she co-founded LJ Films Productions with her husband, Leroy Patton. They produced and directed the 1981 drama Will, about a women’s basketball coach experiencing drug addiction. The movie was the first film ever directed by a Black woman and has been digitized by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C. In 1989, she released a basketball-themed feature, Twice as Nice, followed by Pure Payton in 1997.

Jessie Maple died on May 30, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia. She was 86.