“In the late 1960s, in the aftermath of the Watts Uprising and against the backdrop of the continuing Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam, a group of African and African-American students entered the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television as part of an initiative designed to be responsive to communities of color. Now referred to as the ‘L.A. Rebellion,’ these mostly unheralded artists created a unique cinematic landscape, as over the course of two decades, students arrived, mentored one another and passed the torch to the next group.” (UCLA Film & TV Archive)
Out of the L.A. Rebellion group, no filmmakers took large strides towards genre film quite like Jamaa Fanaka. Before his trio of PENITENTIARY films, there was EMMA MAE.
“A sympathetic portrait of a young Black woman from the South and her difficult adjustment to life in the big city. After the death of her mother, Emma Mae (Jerri Hayes) travels by bus from Mississippi to L.A., her rough country edges on full display. She also possesses an extraordinary ability to beat down anyone who disrespects her or those she loves. Emma Mae’s proficiency in kicking ass echoes traits found in super-mama heroines populating other character-named films of this Blaxploitation era (e.g., FOXY BROWN, COFFY, CLEOPATRA JONES), not surprising given Fanaka’s (successful) aspiration to distribute this student film theatrically. But EMMA MAE is not presented as an impossibly glamorous vixen. To the contrary, her plain looks and shy demeanor seem to necessitate her physical and emotional strength, particularly when dealing with those who mistakenly underestimate her. It is as if Emma Mae can tap directly into a wellspring of Black women’s latent powers in order to protect and serve her own.” (Jacqueline Stewart, UCLA Film & TV Archive)