Jamaa Fanaka, born Walter Gordon, on Sept. 6, 1942, was an American filmmaker best known for his 1979 film, “Penitentiary,” and one of the leading directors of the L.A. Rebellion film movement. Fanaka died April 1, from complication of diabetes. He was 69.
Fanaka was born to Robert L. and Beatrice Gordon in Jackson, Miss. In 1971, he 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 8-mm 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.
During film school, Fanaka wrote, produced and directed “Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975),” about the ravages and dire consequences of racism; “Emma Mae” (1976), 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 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 graduated summa cum laude from UCLA in 1973 and earned his master’s from the film school in 1979.
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 before his passing.
Fanaka is survived by his children Tracey, Michael, Katina and Twyla; his parents, Robert and Beatrice; his siblings Robert, Joseph and Carmen, and nine grandchildren.