Black Sister's Revenge (1976)
By: Mr Intolerance on October 9, 2009  | 
DVD
Xenon Pictures (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 1.0. 87 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Jamaa Fanaka
Starring: Jerri Hayes, Eddie Allen, Charles D. Brooks III
Screenplay: Jamaa Fanaka
Country: USA
AKA: Emma Mae
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
When I saw that this film was written and directed by Jamaa Fanaka (maker of the Penetentiary series of films, among others), I knew I'd be in for something entertaining. I wouldn't say I was the biggest blaxploitation fan (and regardless of whether or not the director's intent was to make what would be dubbed 'blaxploitation', the film does contain most of, if not all of the conventions of the genre), but I'd say I was reasonably well versed in it – this film had completely slipped under my radar; I'd never heard of it before.

I've gotta say in his defence that certainly with this film, Fanaka has managed to avoid some the excesses of the genre that had the Coalition Against Blaxploitation lean on the black film industry to stop presenting such a negative, exploitative view of black urban life. Mind you, he's also entitled the film Black Sister's Revenge; you can't have your cake and eat it too, y'know.

So here we are in Compton, 1976, and country girl Emma Mae has come from Mississippi to live with her cousins in the big city following the death of her mother. Mind you, nobody told her cousins that she was coming to stay. They say first impressions last, which would be sorta unkind to Emma Mae; she's gauche, awkward and very much a fish out of water. But even from a brief acquaintance, she's a sweet girl, unassuming, kind and giving – the kind of people bad folks like to exploit. Taken to a dance, she defines "wallflower". Now, Emma is introduced to Jesse, a smooth-talking pill-popping piece of trash who's going to provide a great deal of the motivation for the action of the film for the next 80 odd minutes – remember what I said about "bad folks" and how they like to exploit the good-hearted? Well...

That all said, she's no push-over, no siree – two-fold provocation (her cousin's boyfriend getting into a bit of a scuffle, and getting called "ugg-mug" by Jesse's scumbag right-hand man Zeke) have her swing a mean punch, something Jesse ought to be thinking about later on in the film. This lady does not back down from a fight, and she does not come out on the losing end of it.

Jesse turns up to ask Emma-Mae to a party – she thinks he's kinda cute, and unfortunately, she goes with him. It's a bit of a cliché to say that the country mouse is bamboozled by the "glamour" of the city mouse, but that's kinda what happens here. I've never understood why good girls go for bad boys who they even know are bad for them. Just when the film seems to be grinding to a halt (seriously, the party scene, some neat dialogue aside, is positively turgid), a gang fight breaks out, and soon the whole party gets involved. Emma-Mae has pretty much aligned herself with Jesse at this point, her loyalty to the low-life starts here, refusing to leave the party-cum-melee without him. Her cousins and their boyfriends know better, but Emma-Mae is obstinate.

One problem with the film is the pacing – there's a fair bit of padding here, some real troughs in-between the peaks. And that's half an hour in. Fanaka's direction is usually a lot more taut than this – certainly was in Penetentiary 2, anyway. Emma-Mae has already started to go down the left-hand path, holding on to Jesse's stash of pills. Her cousins know this is chump behaviour, but she can't be told. Now things pick up a little when Jesse and the boys are pulled over by the cops and rousted (presumably simply for the reason that they're four black men in a car). A fight pretty quickly ensues, which Emma-Mae gets caught up in, and then everything goes bad – Jesse and Zeke get the cops' guns and head for the hills, taking Emma-Mae with them – she does go with them quite willingly. And stupidly.

Jesse, Zeke and Emma-Mae hole up with Big Daddy, and unfortunately for them, the cops are being led to them unwittingly by friends of Emma-Mae. I guess if Fanaka is making a political statement about the state of the black nation in the mid-1970s in this film, he's doing it through using Big Daddy (with his Muslim headgear) as a mouthpiece, descrying the lackadaisical nature of modern youth: "What's the matter with you young 'uns nowadays? We got to be able to blow some heads off, and we got to be ready...(You're) ready my black ass. You sittin' there with a can of beer in one hand, and your other part ner upstairs with a piece of ass in the other, and you got the nerve to tell me that you're ready?!" I guess we're looking at the young being distracted by drugs, sex and TV(which in and of itself is promoting the sex and drugs) from trying to achieve equality – Big Daddy's violent means might seem a bit extreme to put it mildly, but his philosophy is one that you see reflected in many blaxploitation films from the time. It's a common political thread, regardless of how exploitative the film might be.

The cops believe Emma-Mae is a hostage, and Jesse tries to get her to play along with that so as to get out of the situation alive. Our country girl isn't too keen on this, but Jesse's sweet-talking is successful, although it lands him in pokey with a bail of $5000. Emma-Mae leaves her cousin's house, knowing that a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to help her man. She suggests to the young black community to raise the money through operating a car-wash that's sympathetic to their plight. Some of the young folk aren't too keen on washing cars, and Emma-Mae has a novel way of suppressing dissent – cat-fight! Mind you, her way of attracting customers is via a belly-dancer, so you might think that she's kind of exploiting her sisters in terms of their sexuality – not exactly politcal correctness there...

Emma-Mae goes to the slammer to visit her man, but he's not exactly the most grateful of jail-birds, demanding money from her to fund his gambling – on top of what she's trying to raise via the carwash to pay his bail? What a cheek! Not a sympathetic character. And, love-struck loyal fool that she is, she forks it over. Worse yet, the authorities have demanded that the carwash be closed down, because of zoning laws, and Emma-Mae's frustration is again the kind that gets mirrorred in blaxploitation flicks without number: "They always talkin' about how we young people never try to do nothin' but use dope an' kill each other up in the street. Then when we try an' do somethin' the way they say it's supposed to be done, they mess with us and try to shut us down." Even whitey respects Emma-Mae's gumption, but ultimately, whitey is The Man, and falls into line when authority says so, regardless of whether it's morally right or wrong.

Emma-Mae is getting desperate – she wants to see Jesse back on the street, but her modus operandi is a little unusual; she decides that, given legal means have failed her, a bank heist is the way to go. Forced into a corner, she fights back in whatever way she can. Talk about misplaced loyalty... Most of her friends dismiss the idea as crazy, but Big Daddy sums it up pretty well thusly: "Y'all listen to this little lady, and get your hearts together. Talk about takin' chances? What do you think you're doin' every time you pick up a gun, and get the so-called gang war, which is all people, all turf, somethin' don't none of you own, 'cos the white man owns it. That's right. The white man owns every nook and every cranny, every alley and every freeway. Every city and every goddam swamp, the white man owns it. Why? 'Cos he got up off of his ass and took it. Y'all want a piece of him? Well, the only way you're gonna get it is to get up offa your asses and take it back. And y'all got the nerve to talkin' about worryin' about facin' time. Facin' time? Nigger, you face time every day you live and breathe. Why, you're doin' time right now and don't even know it. Y'all always jivin' with me about my mumblin'. See, what you don't know is I mumble to forget. That's right. When I mumble I forget that I'm ashamed to be as old as I am and still walkin' around. Why, if I was anybody at all, I'd be dead. I'm shit, and I know it. But y'all listen to me, and listen to that little lady over there, because what she's tryin' to tell you you'll at least stand a chance to get somethin' out of. Yeah, that is besides laughin' and braggin' over how many brothers you done shot and killed over some fool gang war. Now sit your fuckin' asses down and listen to a real woman, for a change!"

Needless to say, given that kind of rhetoric, the bank heist goes ahead to pay for the bail. And it's also a success. But to what end? I mean, Jesse is a piece of shit to put it mildly – loyalty only goes so far, and Emma-Mae is about to be taught a lesson in being too trusting, as much as Jess is about to be taught a lesson that you don't fuck with the woman who loves you – the revenge of the title is not just a revenge against white society's oppression of black society, it's also a revenge against a sonofabitch who uses people for their own purposes and otherwise strings people along. Emma-Mae heads over to Big Daddy's to await Jesse's return, eschewing the return party for him and Zeke. But, unbeknownst to her, she's being fucked over, and she ain't the kind of gal who's going to take that lying down. Cue: vengeance!

And it's worth waiting for. Kind of.

Fanaka's genuine political agenda transcends the usual blaxploitation vibe in Black Sister's Revenge, given that it actually has some kind of philosophy behind it, raising more serious issues, despite being done in a way that still simultaneously fulfills all of the exploitation conventions of sex, drugs and violence – the urban crime that's common to these films. But the dated nature of this film tends to dull its message. Nice try, but no cigar.
Video
The image is quite soft, like watching VHS given the film's age, a comparison made all the more credible by the fact that this is also presented in 4:3, which really isn't doing the film any favours. There's the occasional glitch on screen, but they're very few and far between.
Audio
Loud to the point of distortion at times, this isn't the best. As with most blaxploitation films, the soundtrack is pretty good, although this one isn't as hard and in-your-face as some.
Extra Features
Not much, but some trailers nonetheless for Bad Attitude, Black Godfather, Dolemite, Penitentiary, Soul Survivor and Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song. And that's the lot, sadly. Considering this DVD has the words "Special Edition" written across the top, I can't actually tell what's so special about it. There's no real Extras, the picture is 4:3 (although admittedly some re-mastering does seem to have occurred), the sound ain't great – sorry, did you say special?
The Verdict
A lesser film in the blaxploitation canon, Black Sister's Revenge is okay, but suffers greatly from problems with pacing. Its overtly political message might seem a little dated, but gives the film more integrity than some of its contemporaries. For completists of the genre only.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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