Neema Barnette zooms in on gospel cinema

If you’re a fan of gospel cinema, you know it’s a genre of film that fuses elements of African-American culture, tenets of Christian faith, and themes of family. These films, also known as faith-based or inspirational movies, bring strong melodrama, heart-breaking scenes that show characters falling to their knees or coming home to the church, emotional climaxes with rousing songs by gospel choirs, and of course, that one character representing the voice of wisdom.  Gospel cinema’s  titles include The Gospel, Woman Thou Art Loosed, Not Easily Broken, Preaching to the Choir, Blessed & Cursed and Preacher’s Kid, and its influence is seen in more entertainment-oriented, mainstream works like Jumping the Broom, Joyful Noise, Fighting Temptations, and many of Tyler Perry’s films.

While gospel cinema often has women protagonists and a loyal following among female audiences, it is as rare to find a woman in the director’s chair as it is to find one at the pulpit.  So as you can imagine, it’s an exciting development to see a female director behind this latest gospel cinema film, Bishop TD Jakes’ Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day. And it’s all the more exciting that the woman in question is as noteworthy and sought-after as director Neema Barnette.

Neema Barnette is the most prolific black female director to date, having helmed TV episodes, films, and TV movies going back three decades.  Barnette’s career has inspired many black female directors, including myself, to work in this field. In the 90’s, it was Neema Barnette on the mainstream tip and Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) on the indie, showing the world that black women can make movies. Fast forward to 2012 and Neema Barnette is adding her vision and talent to the world of gospel cinema.

I got to catch a special preview screening of On the 7th Day – Neema Barnette in appearance, moderated by black film pioneer Warrington Hudlin – at the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC.  On the 7th Day is described as “a gripping thriller and family drama, filmed on location in New Orleans, about a husband and wife who find themselves in the midst of a crisis when their young daughter is kidnapped. The kidnapper is supposedly a serial killer who murders his victims ‘On the 7th Day.’ During their desperate search, a series of deep secrets unveil a troubling past, putting the marriage and their futures in jeopardy.”

For gospel cinema fans, On the 7th Day delivers big time, showing Sharon Leal (Why Did I Get Married) and the iconic Blair Underwood as the embattled husband and wife, with appearances by Pam Grier, Nicole Beharie and Bishop TD Jakes. The  insights that Barnette brings as a black female director add social relevance and cultural sensitivity to the work, while the story takes the genre in a new direction as an intense suspense thriller. Tears will roll as the characters’ faith is tested and, ultimately, restored.

Will this couple’s daughter survive the kidnapping? Check out Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day, which opens in theaters April 13, to find out. Distributed by Codeblack Entertainment.