Barnette, a native of Harlem New York, began her career as a stage actress while attending New York’s High School for the Performing Arts. While earning a BA from The City College of New York, and an MFA from NYU School of The Arts, she subsequently took a position in Vinnette Carroll’s prestigious “Urban Arts Corps” as an actress and directed inner city kids in plays designed to enhance their reading skills. It was then that Neema fell in love with directing. At twenty-one, Neema made her directing debut at Joseph Papps’ Public Theatre with “THE BLUE JOURNEY” by Oyamo. Finding cinema in her work, Papp suggested she enroll in a Third World Cinema program. After graduating from the program, Neema produced an after school special titled “TO BE A MAN” for ABC Television for which she won her first EMMY AWARD.