Back to IndieWire

Jamaa Fanaka, Leading LA Rebellion Film Movement Filmmaker, Dies At 69

Jamaa Fanaka, Leading LA Rebellion Film Movement Filmmaker, Dies At 69

Mourning the loss of my cinematic brother, Jamaa Fanaka who passed away yesterday. He is one of the LA Rebellion filmmakers – the only student to ever have made 3 feature films at UCLA and to also make money from them. He was a good soul, he will be missed, but earns his “secular immortality” (a term he came up with in my interview with him) with his films and his fight for better representation of Black directors with the DGA. Ashe, Jamaa!

Words I read this evening on Zeinabu Irene Davis’ Facebook page (thanks Brandon Wilson for alerting me to this).

That’s all the information that appears to be public as of the time of this post, so I’m sure more (specifically, the cause of his death) will be revealed soon.

Born Walter Gordon, Fanaka attended UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television (where he changed his name to Jamaa Fanaka – based on Swahili words meaning “together we will find success”), earning a BA in 1973 and an MFA in 1979.

It was there that Fanaka, and a group of young African and African American students also in the same program at UCLA formed what is now referred to as the L.A. Rebellion movement (or Los Angeles School Of Black Filmmakers), creating a unique cinematic landscape that is still very much reverred today.

It is also there, at UCLA, that Fanaka made films we’ve covered here on S&A like Emma Mae (1976) and Penitentiary (1979) – see Brandon Wilson’s reviews of both films (HERE & HERE) which screened during last fall’s “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema” retrospective at UCLA.

Penitentiary became the highest grossing independent film of 1979, and two sequels followed in 1982 and 1987.

In 2008, Turner Classic Movies spotlighted Fanaka’s work, airing, for the first time on TV, Emma Mae and Penitentiary in their original aspect ratios.

Fanaka was founder of the Director Guild of America’s African American steering committee in 1994; his latest project was a documentary titled Hip Hop Hope, which profiled underground hip hop culture.

I never did meet the man, but based on some of the exchanges he had with other readers and writers here on S&A, I’d say he was certainly quite the firebrand!

I’ll update this post as more details on his death are revealed…

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: News and tagged