Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch First Trailer for 'Roots' Reboot Watch First Trailer for 'Roots' Reboot Taraji P. Henson Will Topline Film Based on Story of Black Women Mathematicians Who Worked for NASA During the Space Race Taraji P. Henson Will Topline Film Based on Story of Black Women Mathematicians Who Worked for NASA During the Space Race Enter The New Normal Writing Contest From Issa Rae's ColorCreative & Project Greenlight Digital Studios Enter The New Normal Writing Contest From Issa Rae's ColorCreative & Project Greenlight Digital Studios Missed It Last Night? Watch 'A Ballerina’s Tale' in Full Now Missed It Last Night? Watch 'A Ballerina’s Tale' in Full Now Ava DuVernay Wanted for Two (2!) Major Sci-Fi/Fantasy Studio Projects (UPDATE: Lupita Nyong'o May Star in One of Them) Ava DuVernay Wanted for Two (2!) Major Sci-Fi/Fantasy Studio Projects (UPDATE: Lupita Nyong'o May Star in One of Them) Tonight: Nelson George's Misty Copeland Doc - 'A Ballerina’s Tale' - Premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS Tonight: Nelson George's Misty Copeland Doc - 'A Ballerina’s Tale' - Premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS Now Streaming on Netflix: Award-Winning 'Sand Dollars' (Dominican Republic's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Entry) Now Streaming on Netflix: Award-Winning 'Sand Dollars' (Dominican Republic's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Entry) Jamie Foxx Will Play Little John to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood in "Progressive" Take on the Legend Jamie Foxx Will Play Little John to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood in "Progressive" Take on the Legend James Franco Will Direct Film Based on Aziah "Zola" Wells' 148-Tweet Narrative That Went Viral James Franco Will Direct Film Based on Aziah "Zola" Wells' 148-Tweet Narrative That Went Viral Regarding 'Song of the South' – The Film That Disney Doesn’t Want You to See Regarding 'Song of the South' – The Film That Disney Doesn’t Want You to See Watch the Electrifying First Trailer for Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Watch the Electrifying First Trailer for Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Madonna's 'Blonde Ambition' Dancers Tell Their Own Stories in New Documentary 'Strike a Pose' Madonna's 'Blonde Ambition' Dancers Tell Their Own Stories in New Documentary 'Strike a Pose' Watch Episode 1 of PBS' New Civil War-Set Drama Series 'Mercy Street' + On-Set Visit Watch Episode 1 of PBS' New Civil War-Set Drama Series 'Mercy Street' + On-Set Visit Watch: OWN Previews New Primetime Series 'It's Not You, It's Men' (Tyrese Gibson & Rev Run Host) Watch: OWN Previews New Primetime Series 'It's Not You, It's Men' (Tyrese Gibson & Rev Run Host) LeToya Luckett, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Andra Fuller Star in New TV One Comedy Series 'Here We Go Again' LeToya Luckett, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Andra Fuller Star in New TV One Comedy Series 'Here We Go Again' TV One Aims to Change the Reality Genre with New Series, 'The Next 15' TV One Aims to Change the Reality Genre with New Series, 'The Next 15' Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton Is Heading to TV Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton Is Heading to TV Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

L.A. Rebellion 2013 Retrospective Review: Jamaa Fanaka's 'Emma Mae' + Interview w/ Star Jerri Hayes

Shadow and Act By Brandon Wilson | Shadow and Act January 18, 2013 at 1:53PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: The retro is being rebooted for runs in Philly, Toronto and New York through February. Over the next few weeks, we'll be revisiting our reviews/write-ups/interviews on the series (from Brandon Wilson and Nijla Mumin) when it begun in Los Angeles over a year ago... here's another. The overview and complete lineup speak for themselves, so click HERE to head over to the home site for the series.
0
Emma Mae

EDITOR'S NOTE: The retro is being rebooted for runs in Philly, Toronto and New York through February. Over the next few weeks, we'll be revisiting our reviews/write-ups/interviews on the series (from Brandon Wilson and Nijla Mumin) when it begun in Los Angeles over a year ago... here's another. The overview and complete lineup speak for themselves, so click HERE to head over to the home site for the series.

When I asked Jerri Hayes how it felt to revisit her star turn in Jamaa Fanaka’s second feature Emma Mae (1976) after a recent screening, she answered without hesitation. “You know, it’s so different; I was sitting there relating to Emma Mae like it wasn’t me” she replied.

Hayes flew from New York City to attend the screening. She joined Fanaka, and many cast and crewmembers on the stage after the film. The screening was one of the last of UCLA Film & Television Archives’ monumental retrospective of the L.A. Rebellion films.

Hayes played the eponymous heroine of Fanaka’s second feature (renamed Black Sister’s Revenge by a distributor looking to cash in on blaxploitation). She was attending UCLA as a drama student when Fanaka approached her about starring in his second feature (the second of three he made while at UCLA Film School).

In the end, Fanaka may be the greatest revelation in this series. I already knew a good deal about the movement and many of its members, but Fanaka’s work has proved to be the most surprising for the way he deftly employs convention while subverting it at the same time in his films.

Emma Mae tells the story of a country girl from Mississippi (where Fanaka hails from), who has come to Los Angeles to live with family members. Emma is so country she reacts with bewilderment at the sight of her first taco. But if you think she’s a mere rube that is exactly what Fanaka wants you to think. It makes Emma’s subsequent journey and transformation all the more surprising and riveting. That the catalyst for this change is a man is both conventional and (by the time Fanaka is done with the story) radical.

Like Penitentiary, Emma Mae glides along with an infectious glee, even when the story drifts into dark areas. Fanaka’s two features hum with a joy in filmmaking with every second that passes. His keen ear for clever and revealing dialogue is also on display here.

Emma Mae covers two of the key themes in the L.A. Rebellion: migration and personal transformation. And one of the truly great joys of this series has been watching each week as each filmmaker presents his or her own take on these topics.

While there is a revenge element to the film, there is so much more if you choose to treat the film as more than a diversion. The film makes that clear in its opening scene, which captures an idyllic afternoon at a Compton park. It recalls the opening credits of Spike Lee’s Crooklyn except that where Spike had to recreate, Fanaka simply documents the actual moment. But bigger than this is the fact that Fanaka’s film is really about the sad transition that occurred in mid-1970’s Black L.A.: when the dreams of the Civil Rights & Black Liberation Movements ebbed only to be replaced by street nihilism.

It has been my oft-expressed desire in writing about this series that these films travel to other cities and get the kind of DVD release they deserve. I have also repeatedly talked about the performers. The directors have struggled to get their due, but auteurism ensures that they will always receive the praise first when it is aimed at the films. But (along with the critics who champion the films) the actors are often the unsung heroes of this movement.

Jerri Hayes is emblematic in this respect. The Alabama native never acted in another film after her debut role in Emma Mae. She moved to New York and focused on her family. “At first, I couldn’t watch a play without crying because I missed it so much” she said of her decision to stop acting. “But then I looked at my little one and I looked at New York and thought if the streets took my daughter I’d never be able to deal with it.” And so she quit. Now that her daughter is in graduate school, Hayes hopes to return to her first love. She is currently preparing a one-woman show, and hopes to one day work again with Fanaka. Their enduring mutual admiration was a pleasure to witness.

Hayes’ choice was hers to make. One cannot witness her transform herself from an innocent to a warrior in Emma Mae without wondering what performances we’ve missed out on from her. The final irony is that her decision to walk away stems from her desire to make sure her own daughter didn’t suffer a fate similar to Emma Mae’s sad path.

One can only speculate what long term impact this screening and this retrospective has had on Hayes, Fanaka, and all the other actors and directors who revisited their work in the last ten weeks. But with a little luck, perhaps this series will live up to its subtitle (“Creating A New Black Cinema”) by reinvigorating the actors and directors as they finally begin to receive the recognition so long overdue. I’m sure they all, like Hayes, have a lot left to offer.


Shadow & ActNewsletter