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Director Jamaa Fanaka (via LA Tiimes)

Jamaa Fanaka, director of 1979 independent film”Penitentiary” and who later made headlines with his legal battles with the Directors Guild of America alleging widespread discrimination against women and ethnic minorities in the film and television industry, has died, reports the Los Angeles Times. He was 69.

Fanaka was reportedly found dead in his apartment in South Los Angeles on Sunday with the cause of death likely from complications of diabetes.

Fanaka was still enrolled in the UCLA film school when he wrote, produced and directed his first three feature films, financed with competitive academic grants and funds from his parents: “Welcome Home, Brother Charles” (1975), “Emma Mae” (1976) and “Penitentiary,” which was both a critical and box-office success.

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

More recently, Fanaka was the outspoken founder of the Directors Guild of America’s African American Steering Committee.

In 1999, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s decision to dismiss Fanaka’s race-discrimination lawsuit suit against the Directors Guild in which he claimed it was part of a “conspiracy” to keep women and minorities out of the industry.

And in 2002, the 9th Circuit upheld a district court decision to dismiss Fanaka’s race discrimination lawsuit filed against the major film studios and networks.

source: LA Times

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