24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

« Previous Post | 24 Frames Home | Next Post »

Jamaa Fanaka, 'Penitentiary' filmmaker, dies at 69

April 3, 2012 | 11:37 am

FanakaJamaa Fanaka, who emerged as a dynamic young black filmmaker with his gritty 1979 independent film “Penitentiary” and later made headlines with his legal battles alleging widespread discrimination against 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 Jan-Christopher Horak, a friend. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

The Mississippi-born Fanaka was still enrolled in the UCLA film school when he wrote, produced and directed his first three feature films: “Welcome Home, Brother Charles” (1975), “Emma Mae” (1976) and “Penitentiary.”

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.”

Fanaka went on to write, produce and direct two “Penitentiary” sequels, in 1982 and 1987.  His final feature film was “Street Wars,” a low-budget 1992 action-drama.

A complete obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.


Ben Gazzara, 81, veteran actor of stage and screen

Bingham Ray, 57, leading force in independent films

Peter M. Douglas, 69, California Coastal Commission chief

-- Dennis McLellan

Photo: Jamaa Fanaka in 1997. Credit: Mary G. Wentz / For The Times