Incarceration poses a disproportionate threat to African Americans. A popular conception is that the family structure of African Americans is to blame. The demonisation of matriarchal family structures was influenced by the Moynihan Report from 1965 and has since not only been reiterated by conservative commentators but also by representations of black families in film and television. Charles Burnett’s strategy of representation manages to address the sensitive issue of incarceration among African Americans without exploiting the image of violent young black men. Rather than focusing on ‘pathology’ Burnett portrays the complexity of the African American family, while drawing attention to external reasons for its vulnerability.