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Black Women Directors: Sanaa Hamri

by Afiya XJune 8, 2011

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

Related: 10 Black Female Directors You Should Know

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  • geek

    @Jim

    You can be black AND arabic, so her father may be both—-all Arabs aren’t white or light-skinned either. I give her props for ID’d her self as a sister when she could have easily claimed to be anyting else BUT black. After the huge success of SOMETHING NEW, she should have been making way more films than she has—if she was a white guy, she more than likey would have been, because Hollywood mainly caters to white dudes.

    • Ram

      Something New was really nice. I’m in an interracial, intercultural relationship. It’s not far removed from my reality. I am a writer and broadcaster editor and post production person. So I know story telling on film from inception to air date also. I am a minority female
      Cheers

  • https://plus.google.com/102272723952496035302/posts Ben Daité

    In all her interviews, she has identified as an African-American woman. Besides, her background has spanned a lot of African-American art forms, notably hip-hop music video direction, to name but one. And it’s really not a debate that her parents are African, whether they are ethnically Arab and Jewish.

    This is where I can’t close my eyes to the general argument on this topic of identification. With this I would call on Stuart Hall who makes the argument that, the struggle of identification must be, “instead, to replace the ‘or’ with the potentiality or the possibility of an ‘and’.” That is the logic of coupling rather than the logic of a binary opposition.

    On that note, Sanaa Hamri can be African-American, African, and Arab, and Jewish, if she chooses to be. Whatever combination she pleases. It is not one or the other. I think we all need to be careful when we pass these notes of identity.

  • Jim Jackson

    She was born to an Arabic father and white jewish mother, so… not sure she is “of color” in the conventional sense.

  • Daité

    After seeing Just Wright, I have so much respect for Sanaa. There are not a lot of African-American directors out there, especially of her experience and quality. She holds a place in the hearts and minds of up and coming directors struggling for that breakthrough.

  • ++Jerome

    How old is she?

    • Jack

      Google, right?

  • Neema

    Let’s leave our problems back on the continent and confront the ones here together. Sanaa is a great African-American director. I think Just Wright is her seminal work. That movie was shot with conviction and purpose. She can do a lot to help black kids everywhere.

  • MonoPee

    Amusing when I see ‘africans’ from the north in america assoc. w/ African-America. Back on the continent they call black people monkeys and when they come to America they realize that sh#t, am’n’t a whitee! then they wonna be black cos there’s nowhere else to be…born in morocco, cool, i guess it makes her African-American afterall. hopefully Sanaa Hamri can help bring some awareness in north africa, esp. libya abt arabs killing blacks…stop the hipo-crises.

  • Kukrudu

    …u mean she don’t talk out of her ass.

  • Cricket

    She’s very soft spoken, weighs stuff before she says them. Very composed. These are the models black girls need, not Nicki Madaj or Rihoenna.

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