“I Do Feel the Fire!”: The Transformations of Prison-Based Black Male Converts to Islam in South Central, Malcolm X, and Oz

  • Author(s): Kameron J. Copeland
  • When: 2017-04
  • Where: Journal of Religion & Film
  • Historically, imprisoned Black male converts to Islam have been known for their narratives of redemption and struggles for religious freedom behind bars. While Islam possesses a strong visible presence throughout predominately Black areas of inner cities, it has become a natural feature of Black popular culture in mediums such as hip-hop, film, and literature. By the 1990s, the portrayal of Islamic conversions yielding Malcolm X-style transformations among young Black men, who formerly embodied self-destructiveness, were visible in films featuring Black male protagonists. The prison-based transformations typically involved highly influential Black Muslim leaders improving the social conditions of the inmate, the development of a linkage between religion and racial identity, and the observance of gradual Islamic self-restraint. The prison-based narrative among young Black men is most popularly seen in 1990s films such as South Central (1992) and Malcolm X (1992), as well as the one-hour HBO television drama Oz (1997-2003), in which writers pay tribute to the legacy and impact of imprisoned Black Muslims.

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