Sanaa Hamri is one of the most successful African American women music video and film directors… and she has never taken a film class.
Born in Morocco, Hamri studied theater at Sarah Lawrence College with the intention of becoming an actress. After college, while struggling to start an acting career, she worked as a receptionist in a post-production house in New York under cinematographer Malik Sayeed (Belly, He Got Game, The Players Club, Clockers). After showing Sayeed a music video she edited, he became her mentor. Not long after, she started editing videos for Hype Williams and Mariah Carey.
Now, she has directed videos for an impressive list of stars including Jadakiss, Prince, Kelly Rowland, Mariah Carey (who Hamri also credits as a mentor), Nicki Minaj, Lenny Kravitz, Common, Eric Benet, Amel Larrieux, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, and Christina Aguilera. Through editing and directing music videos, she mastered the craft of filmmaking.
Hamri is known in the music industry for her progressive stance on women’s depiction in videos. As her reputation as a music video director grew, Hamri turned down jobs that depicted women of color in a negative light and brought the same conviction to directing features. She told the DGA:
When [an executive] told me I wouldn’t have a career if I turned stuff down, I said, ‘Watch me.’ What I love about the studios and the producers that I have worked with is that they all want to show positive energy and optimism in films [in contrast to] the feeling that came from working in a music industry where women in general were props in videos and the lifestyle didn’t gel for me at all.
Hamri made her feature directorial debut with Something New (2006) which was the first major Hollywood studio film directed by (Hamri), produced by (Stephanie Allain), written by (Kriss Turner), and starring (Sanaa Lathan) African American women.
Since her first film, she has directed Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008) and Just Wright (2010). Like many directors of film, Hamri also dabbles in television. She has directed episodes of popular shows like Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy.
Watch Hamri on the set of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2:
Hamri talks Just Wright: