|Starring:||Leon Isaac Kennedy, Wilbur ‘Hi-Fi’ White and Thommy Pollard|
|The Plot: Martel ‘Too Sweet’ Gordone (played by Leon Isaac Kennedy) is a tough young man who runs into some trouble with a couple of bikers who try their best to rough up a young prostitute. When ‘Too Sweet’ begins to batter the two goons, he is struck over the head with a bottle and knocked unconscious. When he awakens, he is in prison. A victim of the racist system, Too Sweet must now contend with life on the inside. The prison is ran by a group of individuals who are obsessed with breaking in the fresh meat, so that they can make them their sexual slaves. ‘Too Sweet’ however refuses to give in and displays his tremendous natural fighting ability. This gets him a shot in a boxing competition that offers many rewards, such as free time with a woman and even time taken off of a sentence! Will ‘Too Sweet’ make it through the tournament and what will happen with his new enemies within the penitentiary?|
Although, at its very heart, this is a very simple boxing story set within a prison and has a fair amount of comedy thrown in to entertain, but one gets the idea that Fanaka definitely went for some of the social commentary that his film makes. The state of the criminal system is of course shown to be predominately black, with several allusions to slavery being made in the form of homosexual aggression lead by a select number of authoritative leaders within the prison. Fresh prisoners who aren’t acclimated to the rough and tumble way of life that is now in front of them are made into sexual slaves for the high ranking gang leaders. Human beings are treated as objects, expressed perfectly in one pivotal sequence where the young Laverne is chastised by another inmate and is told “You my stuff now! You my stuff!”. The heartlessness of slavery is captured within scenes such as this better than any civil war feature I believe that I have ever seen. Although the white warden isn’t shown to be as insufferable as many of the black inmates, he is still very much a plantation-owner of sorts. The character generally even looks the part. So, within this strange world of slavery upon slavery, the character of Too Sweet stands up as a strong black male who may be held within the confines of this system, the prison/America, but he will not play ball and he will fight to have what he desperately wants: freedom/equality. This is all very surface level observations, but what I like about Penitentiary is that we as the audience can pick up on these small bits of subtext but at the same time we can also enjoy the plentiful action sequences throughout.