Talk about a woman who knows how to make some lemonade. Born and raised in Morocco, Sanaa Hamri was an aspiring actress who studied theater at Sarah Lawrence College. After graduating in 1996, Hamri was Manhattan-bound, determined to bring her dreams to life but as is the case with all to many would-be performers, her career in theater ended before it even started. That’s when Ms. Hamri made the advantageous choice to step onto the other side of the stage, or camera, in her case: she embarked on a career in film directing.
The daughter of the late Moroccan author and painter Mohammed Hamri, and an American mom, Blanca, who taught at the American School of Tangier, her unique blend of talent and determination has resulted in a fruitful career. Sanaa Hamri is a highly acclaimed Hollywood player having directed numerous music videos, TV episodes and a handful of films. During a recent interview with African Voices Hamri talks about her wildly successful journey, giving a special shout out to those who’ve helped her along the way.
Legend has it that Hamri’s choice to get behind the lens put her on cinematographer Malik Sayeed’s radar. Learning on the job at a post-production company, one of the budding director’s early videos caught Sayeed’s attention. Apparently, he was so impressed by Hamri’s work that he showed it to Mariah Carey, who inevitably told the young creative, “You know, you really should direct.”
“And then I got the opportunity to direct her in this video called ‘Thank God I Found You (Remix)’” … Hamri recounts. “[Directing] was extremely natural to me and I realized that Mariah was right — this is where I belong.” In three-years time, the doors of opportunity flew wide open for the once-aspiring actress.
Hamri’s filmography flourished. She went on to direct more videos for Carey, and loads of other artists such as Destiny’s Child, Jay-Z, Common, India.Aire, Seal, Joss Stone, Lupe Fiasco, Prince and Nicki Minaj – including the MTV VMA award-winning “Super Bass.”
In 2006, Sanaa Hamri debuted her 1st feature-length film starring Sanaa Lathan, Something New. In addition to directing Just Wright, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Hamri has directed several episodes of hit shows like Desperate Housewives, Shameless, Hit the Floor and Glee.
Amongst many gems shared during the interview, Sanaa insists, “Education is vital, rebellion can ignite a journey you’d never contemplated before & networking is key” her final words of wisdom may be the most empowering of all:
“Always keep your aspirations in mind, no matter how lofty they may seem.” On Sanaa’s horizon: “I definitely want to create in Morocco as a base a very large studio that would be in competition with the big studios in Hollywood… We would be able to go on location and stuff, but just really creating like the biggest entertainment hub in Africa.”
It’s Hamri’s sheer determination, inspiring philosophy – and networking of course – that steered her career on this trajectory of achievement. Perhaps her story will encourage other Creatives at a crossroads to do the same.