Jamaa Fanaka, who emerged as a dynamic black filmmaker with his gritty independent 1979 film “Penitentiary” and later made headlines with his legal battles alleging widespread discrimination against women and ethnic minorities in the film and television industry, has died. He was 69.
Fanaka was found dead in his apartment in South Los Angeles on Sunday, said his daughter Tracey L. Gordon. The cause of death has not been determined, but she said it probably was the result of complications of diabetes.
The Mississippi-born Fanaka was still enrolled in the UCLA film school when he wrote, produced and directed his first three feature films, financed with competitive academic grants and funds from his parents: “Welcome Home, Brother Charles” (1975), “Emma Mae” (1976) and “Penitentiary,” which was both a critical and box-office success.
In his review of “Penitentiary,” The Times’ Kevin Thomas wrote that Fanaka “has taken one of the movies’ classic myths, the wrongly imprisoned man who fights for his freedom with boxing gloves, and made it a fresh and exciting experience.”
What “Penitentiary” says, Fanaka told The Times in 1980, “is that no matter what kind of situation one is confronted with, within each of us is the wherewithal to triumph.”
Read MORE at LATimes.
Check out the trailer for Penitentiary: