William & Mary

Converging Paths: Nekisa R. Cooper '99

Nekisa Cooper graduated with a major in Government. This article first appeared in the 2010 President's Report.


As an independent film producer, Nekisa Cooper '99 strives to tell stories that are not typically seen or heard.

“I believe film can change hearts and minds one popcorn bucket at a time. I’m inspired by images that aren’t mainstream,” she says. In fact, the mission statement for her independent company, Northstar Pictures Inc., named for Frederick Douglass’ abolitionist newspaper, states in part: “Northstar Pictures ... seeks to give voice to the disenfranchised and provide an alternative point of view on society.”

Cooper didn’t set out for a career in film, but each step she took in a seemingly different direction helped prepare her for it.

“My time at William & Mary, especially the time I spent in collegiate athletics, gave me the critical thinking skills that have helped make my career dreams a reality,” says Cooper, who played varsity basketball for the Tribe. “William & Mary taught me to be strategic – that’s a foundation for how I live my life.”

After graduation, Cooper spent a brief time coaching college basketball before going to Clark Atlanta University to earn a Master of Business Administration in marketing. She planned to become an athletic director, but ended up in brand management, working for companies like Colgate-Palmolive, L’Oreal and General Electric.

While at Colgate, a friend left the business to attend film school. “When she told me about a film she was working on, I said I’d love to help with logistics and organizing – skills I had from my job,” she recalls. Cooper co-produced that film – and was hooked.

Cooper sees many parallels between filmmaking and managing brands. “Putting together a film is a lot like running a business, and my former career taught me how to do that,” she says. “I love using those skills to pursue my passion.”

In her relatively young film career, Cooper has produced many critically acclaimed projects, including a feature documentary on Liberia, Eventual Salvation, which received a 2007 Sundance Documentary Fund Grant and premiered on the Sundance Channel in October 2009.

Other projects include the narrative short Pariah, a coming-of-age story about a lesbian teenager, which will premiere as a full-length feature film early next year, and the award-winning La Muñeca Fea (The Ugly Doll), which is currently in post-production.

Though her career has taken several shifts, Cooper doesn’t see many significant changes in her future. “I feel like I’ve found my place,” she says. “It was a weird journey – basketball layered with coaching and business school and a branding career got me here. But I’m very comfortable.”