Fifteen years ago I began the journey of making Civil Brand! It started with an offer to direct. Wanting to make a change and really tell a more honest story of young Black women in prison, I asked writer Joyce Renee Lewis to come aboard for a re- write. We decided to make the characters different, internal warriors who would fight against a prison system which parallels modern slavery & we named the prison Whitehead Correctional Institute after a plantation. 

A line in the original script stated that a corporation came to visit the prison. Curious, I went online typing "prison as business" and that's when the story began to take shape! We found out that The Correction Corporation of America was number four on the New York Stock Exchange. Prison was big business!

We re-structured the story to highlight slave labor in the prison system and decided to have the inmates fight back!

Joyce came up with our log line,” Whoever heard of women taking over a prison?”

Writer Joyce Renee Lewis began to interview women behind bars and the characters were reformed to reflect actual experiences.  Once we headed out to North Carolina where the original location had been selected with our new version of the script, they told us not only could we NOT shoot there but we couldn't shoot any prison in North Carolina. We headed to Nashville giving the authorities a dummy version of the script and got the location. Then I proceeded to shoot the script we wanted!

The shoot was difficult, taxing in multiple ways. After 15 days, and having been bought in a merger by another studio, I was shut down and told to come back, cut what I had and then I'd get the additional five days scheduled.

At that time I was twenty scenes short of important scenes.  I waited a year for the five days and was finally given one day to shoot. We restructured the script, shot Da Brat on camera instead of voice over to piece the film together. I shot 41 set ups that day!  My editor David Beatty and I went back to the editing room and in one week re-cut the film from first  frame to last.

It wasn't the film I wanted it to be but I thought if it could prevent one young woman from going to jail and open folks eyes to what's really happening with private prisons, it would all be worth it!

The film took three years of my life to make. Who knew it would win awards, get a theatrical release and play around the world and at Oxford University!  Warriors made this movie! Young artists who care about their fans, many who are behind bars!

When I go to Youtube and see all the young people who are doing thesis papers on Civil Brand I feel the journey was worth it all!  Passion drives us as artists and when mine was tested, I'm so glad I had the strength to meet the challenge.

I will always be grateful to my cast and great crew who rode with me through this journey.

CIVIL BRAND is a low budget feature put together with paper clips, love and commitment.

We're nothing fancy, we're just plain folks who decided to tell this story by any means necessary!

Neema Barnette



The Brooklyn Academy of Music (Bam) recently announced its “One Way or Another: Black Women’s Cinema, 1970–1991” exhibition in February, in celebration of Black history month.  According to the exhibit’s website, this event was designed to honor the “black women directors who blazed the trail for that landmark film.”

Two of the first films of BHMD’s executive producer Neema Barnette, will be featured along with an impressive list of Black women filmmakers and director, pioneers.  One of the oldest performing arts institutions, known as a center for progressive and avant garde performance,  presented its first performance in 1861 and began operations in its present location in 1908. Today, BAM has a reputation as a leader in presenting "cutting edge" performance and has grown into an urban arts center which focuses on both international arts presentation and local community needs. Kicking off the 20 day retrospective we'll be the exhibition that commemorates the theatrical and Blu-ray release of Julie Dash’s"Daughters of the Dust”. 


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