Tupac’s Godfather, Jamal Joseph, on His Journey From Panther to Political Prisoner to Film Director

Writer, director and activist Jamal Joseph was a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. At 16 years old, he was arrested in the Panther 21 case along with Afeni Shakur, the mother of rapper Tupac Shakur.


The Panther 21 case was designed to wipe out the New York Black Panther Party through the arrest of everybody in a leadership position. At 16 years old, Joseph was the youngest, facing more than 300 years.

He was freed but later convicted for helping fugitive Panther members, and spent nine-and-a-half years in the Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. It was there that he began writing and directing plays. He developed a passion and set the goal of becoming a filmmaker.

Once released, Joseph made his dreams a reality. Now he’s a well-respected director-writer, the founder of a theater group, a best-selling author, and a Columbia University professor and mentor. He was also nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 for best song for his contributions to the film August Rush.

Joseph also happened to be the godfather of Tupac Shakur, who affectionately called him “Uncle Jamal.”

“I miss Tupac, and I also missed the opportunity to work with him,” Joseph says. “He was only 25 years old. How many of us had life-changing things happen but did dumb stuff in our teens and our 20s? If he was still with us, I know that not only the state of the community but the state of black arts and activism would be in a dynamic place.”


See the full interview above.

Bonus video below: Joseph speaks about his latest film, Chapter & Verse, starring Daniel Beaty, Omari Hardwick and Loretta Devine.

Video Producer @ The Root


Thank you so much for this. I’ve recently started revisiting everything I think I know about the Panthers because that recent PBS documentary made me realize how much what I think I know is thanks to j Edgar hoover. Which is a pretty gross feeling. So, again, thanks.