The Fight Stuff

Jamaa Fanaka on racial myths and the ailing film industry

Jamaa Fanaka
Jamaa Fanaka

Who is Jamaa Fanaka?

Jamaa Fanaka is the creator of some of the maddest, baddest filmmaking ever to come from a black man rolling bones in a rigged white man's game.

His entire body of work, beginning with the racial powder-keg triptych Welcome Home Brother Charles, Emma Mae, and Penitentiary (all three of which were written, produced, directed, and edited and garnered theatrical distro as part of Fanaka's curriculum at UCLA Film School), is both a compassionate shout-out to the downtrodden of Compton and beyond and a wholly civilized cri de coeur aimed at an increasingly feral world.

Jamaa Fanaka is an interlocutor in an endlessly outrageous and intellectually evolving argument on race.

He took on the myth of African-American phallic superiority (Welcome Home features a surrealistic death-by-penis-strangulation scene worthy of Buñuel) and then turned around and played directly to stereotype with the crazed Penitentiary III, in which wrongly incarcerated boxer-cum-antihero Leon Isaac Kennedy is forced to defend his manhood from the Midnight Thud, a spuriously un-PC, gay homicidal dwarf who smokes crack, roars like a tiger, and giggles maniacally before giving his victims a tongue bath and gnawing off their nether regions.

Jamaa Fanaka is a subversive and a threat to Hollywood's status quo.

"I am hoping the film industry doesn't fight what is already fait accompli," he says of the digital-download revolution currently scaring the hell out of Hollywood.

"Just imagine," he told The Austin Chronicle from his home in Los Angeles, "if the studios in Hollywood, instead of trying to get the horse back into the barn, which is on fire, so to speak, would release the raw footage, the dailies, the rushes, the sound effects, the music, and upload it all onto the Internet. And then allow everybody a chance to do their own version of Star Wars or do a new version of a film that flopped, that in other hands might end up being a big hit if everybody in the world has a chance to edit it on their computer. Imagine that! Why not?

"The [Directors Guild of America] and some directors will probably have a knee-jerk reaction against my idea, because they are under the impression that it somehow might dilute the purity of their vision and all that. Nothing can destroy the purity of your vision! Nothing! Star Wars will always be Star Wars, and if somebody draws a mustache on the Mona Lisa, it doesn't detract from the Mona Lisa – you know what I mean? It does not alter the original work in any way; it just adds another, different way of looking at it. But the original director's vision remains intact."

Jamaa Fanaka is a tech-savvy visionary who embraces the new before it even arrives.

"I never had a computer key refuse to respond to my finger because it's black. Any knowledge you want to gain, you can gain from the Internet. You want to learn how to make an atomic bomb? It's on the Internet. Getting the material and getting the facilities, that's another thing. Same thing with filmmaking, only now we've got the material, we've got the facilities."

Who is Jamaa Fanaka?

Jamaa Fanaka is a Revolutionary with a capital "R." Believe the hype  

Jamaa Fanaka will screen his films Penitentiary III and Emma Mae at the Alamo Ritz on Wednesday, July 2. Check for show times. Fanaka will also conduct a Film and Video Director's Master Workshop with filmmaker Maxie D. Collier on Thursday, July 3, at the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center (1165 Angelina). For more information, visit

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Welcome Home Brother Charles, Emma Mae, Penitentiary III, Jamaa Fanaka

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