Early Life and Breakthrough
Sanaa was born in Tangier, Morocco. Her father was the late Moroccan painter and author Mohammed Hamri. She won a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she studied theatre. She studied her junior year of college in Paris, graduated in 1996, and then moved to Manhattan. With dreams of becoming and actress, Sanaa struggled through auditions and unemployment before she decided to try directing. Sanaa taught herself to use an Avid editing machine in 2000 and has never taken a filmmaking course. Realizing she had a talent for putting images together to tell a story, Sanaa began making videos and approaching the music industry.
Malik Hassan Sayeed, a cinematographer and video producer, was impressed by one of her early videos, and showed it to Mariah Carey, who subsequently hired Sanaa to direct her video. Sayeed also gave Sanaa her first editing job for a reggae - hip hop fusion group called Born Jamericans.
Her videos include but are not limited to Jadakiss' U Make Me Wanna, Prince's Musicology, Kelly Rowland's Stole, and Mariah Carey's Crybaby, Bringing on the Heartbreak, Don't Stop (Funkin' 4 Jamaica), and Mariah Care's unreleased video for Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. She has also directed videos for Nicki Minaj, Lenny Kravitz, Joss Stone, Sting, Common, Raven-Symoné, Eric Beneet, Amel Larrieux, Jay-Z, A*Teens, and Christina Aguilera. She also directed the music video for Greyson Chance's Waiting Outside the Lines.
The directed-video Super Bass for Nicki Minaj has more than 250m views on YouTube, making it the most popular video directed by Sanaa.
Production began in March 2005 on Focus Features' Something New, a romantic comedy starring Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker and directed by Sanaa. The film was released on January 29, 2006. Stephanie Allain produced the film through her company, Homegrown Pictures. Something New was Sanaa's first film, as she made the transition from music videos to features. The film grossed $11m and received generally positive reviews.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 with America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, and Blake Lively, was the second film Sanaa directed and was released on August 6, 2008. The film grossed $44m and received generally favorable reviews.
Her latest directorial project was Just Wright with Queen Latifah and Common, which was released on May 14, 2010. The film which grossed $21m and received mixed reviews.
Along with directing feature films and music videos, Sanaa also directs television. Sanaa has directed multiple episodes of Nashville, Shameless, Elementary, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Men in Trees. Mariah Carey's live concert documentary, The Adventures of Mimi, and Prince's The Art of Musicology and Prince Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas were directed by Sanaa.