Jamaa Fanaka

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Jamaa Fanaka (born Walter Gordon; September 6, 1942 – April 1, 2012) was an American filmmaker. He is best known for his 1979 film, Penitentiary, and is one of the leading directors of the L.A. Rebellion film movement. Fanaka died on April 1, 2012.[1][2]

Fanaka was born Walter Gordon to Robert L. and Beatrice Gordon in Jackson, Mississippi.[3] In 1971, Fanaka was accepted into the film school at UCLA. His first film, "A Day in the Life of Willie Faust, or Death on the Installment Plan," was a morality tale shot in 8mm film about a heroin addict. The film stars Fanaka (credited as Walt Gordon) in the title role. It is the only narrative short he ever made. Jan-Christopher Horak of the UCLA Film Archives when comparing the movie with the 1972 blaxploitation film, Super Fly, released the same year, observed, "unlike Priest's elegant cocaine consumption in Super Fly, Willie's arm gushes blood as he injects heroin."[4]

Later, he changed his name to Jamaa Fanaka. Ntongela Masilela states that while "a fundamental tenet of the Los Angeles school was an opposition to Hollywood," Fanaka was a notable exception. He describes Fanaka as "very much fascinated by Hollywood and averse to the contentious ideological and artistic discussions that were fundamental to the formation of the school."[5]

During film school, Fanaka wrote, produced and directed Emma Mae (1974), about a young woman who arrives in Los Angeles from Mississippi to live with her mother's sister and her family after her mother dies, and survives the culture shock that accompanies the move; Welcome Home Brother Charles (1975), about the ravages and dire consequences of racism; and Penitentiary (1979), the story of a young man wrongly sent to prison, who, through his boxing talents, is able to win his freedom. Fanaka completed Street Wars in 1992. He was in extended production and post-production on Hip Hop Hope, a documentary feature film on the underground Hip Hop culture.


  • 1. "Jamaa Fanaka, Leading LA Rebellion Film Movement Filmmaker, Dies At 69". Shadow and Act on Cinema of the African Diaspora.
  • 2. King, Susan (2011-10-03). "The 'L.A. Rebellion' returns". Los Angeles, California: Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  • 3. Phelps, Shirelle (editor) (1998). Who's Who Among African Americans (11th Edition). Detroit: Gale Research. p. 405.
  • 4. Horak, Jan-Christopher (2011). "A Day in the Life of Willie Faust, or Death on the Installment Plan (1972)". Los Angeles, California: UCLA Film & Television Archive. Retrieved 2011-11-14. Jamaa Fanaka’s first project plays off the Blaxploitation’s genre conventions, an adaption of Goethe’s “Faust” presented with a non-synchronous soundtrack and superimposed over a remake of Super Fly (1972). Often out of focus with an overactive camera, the film immediately exudes nervous energy, but unlike Priest’s elegant cocaine consumption in Super Fly, Willie’s arm gushes blood as he injects heroin. A morality tale in two reels.
  • 5. Masilela, Ntongela (1993). "The Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers". In Diawara, Manthia. Black American Cinema. New York, London: Routledge. p. 115.

Pages in category "Jamaa Fanaka"

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