Emma Mae

dir. Jamaa Fanaka

TIFF Cinematheque - Black History Month

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Arriving in Los Angeles from Mississippi, a shy country girl starts kicking ass and taking names in Jamaa Fanaka's clever riff on (and remaking of) the blaxploitation genre.
After the death of her mother, country girl Emma Mae (Jerri Hayes) leaves Mississippi for Los Angeles, her shyness, plain looks and rough edges belying her extraordinary ability to beat down anyone who disrespects her or those she loves. Arriving in L.A., Emma Mae quickly falls for a smooth-talking ne'er-do-well, who breaks her heart despite her selfless efforts to bail him out of jail, first by running a car wash under the watchful eyes of racist L.A. police, then by making a foray into bank robbery. Retitled Black Sister's Revenge for its video release, Jamaa Fanaka's sympathetic portrait of a young Black woman from the South making a difficult adjustment to life in the big city both riffs on and remakes the Blaxploitation genre; unlike the superheroics of a Coffy, Foxy Brown or Cleopatra Jones, Emma Mae's remarkable proficiency at kicking ass seems to derive from her ability to tap directly into a wellspring of Black women's latent powers in order to protect and serve her own.