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How Race and Criminality Are Embodied in Memoir and Film: An Investigation of Jamaa Fanaka and Austin Reed

  • Ravi ShankarEmail author
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Abstract

The earliest known prison memoir is by the African-American writer Austin Reed, written in 1858, about New York’s infamous Auburn State Prison. Recently discovered and authenticated by a team of Yale scholars, his memoir The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convicts sheds light on the long-standing connection between race and incarceration in America by looking at a moment in American history right before the Civil War and the beginning of Jim Crow. Frank Jones was incarcerated on many occasions. Serving a life sentence for a murder he claims he did not commit, Jones scavenged colored pencils from prison bookkeepers and drew what he called “devil houses” in red and blue, symbolic and spiritual representations of the Huntsville Prison where he found himself. The Blaxploitation film Penitentiary (1979, Jamaa Fanaka) offers a common enough prison paradigm about a wrongfully accused man. Poised on the edge of a constant threat of violence, the film replicates in its cinematography the claustrophobic space of the jail cell. The way race interacts with criminality has been explored by writers, visual artists, and movie directors and in contributing to this focus, this chapter will examine these historically and artistically distinctive responses to American incarceration.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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