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Debut film set during Black Power movement

Bridgit Brown

“Night Catches Us” is the debut feature film by writer and director Tanya Hamilton.

Set in the late 1970s amidst the backdrop of a struggling Black Power movement, this film stars Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie. Marcus, played by Mackie, is the main character and a former member of Philly’s Black Power movement. When he returns home after being away for several years, he finds himself caught up in a hornet’s nest of unresolved issues that include his former Black Power cronies and Patricia, his former lover, played by Washington.     

The challenge for Marcus is to figure out a way to navigate through the world that he has returned by either laying to rest the issues of the past or taking off again. Which way does he go?

In a conversation with the Bay State Banner, Hamilton said that the characters in the film were  metaphors for the Black Power movement. She also discussed the contemporary significance of some of themes presented in the “Night Catch Us,” which will screen on Thursday, Jan. 27 at the Stuart Street Playhouse.

Was this inspired by any particular story?

Not at all. It is completely fictional and kind of like a tapestry of things taken from different places.

What is the significance of this story today?

I think it’s a continuation of a discussion that I don’t think has ended in any way. I think we are still living with a lot of the same issues of the past, and in many ways those issues are coming from beyond race. I think that they deal with class, poverty and communities sustaining themselves, and health care.

Why was it important for you to make this film?

I think we really were blessed to be able to make a movie that looks at the African American in a different way. It breaks apart what we see as a consistent stereotype of what we are as people and what our lives are like. I think we are trying to reshape for ourselves how these films are made and how we represent ourselves to the rest of the world.

How did you get into filmmaking?

This is my first feature film and I made a short that was my thesis at Columbia University where I went to graduate school. It was shot in Jamaica, where I am from. I went to undergrad as a painter in New York and then went to school for screenwriting and directing. I spent a lot of time as a writer, and that was free and easier to do than making movies.

Has it been a challenge to get this film screened?

Magnolia Films picked up the film a couple of months after Sundance last year, where we debuted. It’s an interesting movie and I think it’s done extremely well, critically. We’ve gotten amazing reviews from every important place, and that’s been very good. I think that we — as a people and movie consumers — have a specific language that we eat up and I think that what all of us are trying to do is to try to make films that are commercially viable and that speak a different language. I think that to embark on that you have to change minds and you have to entice people to eat something different. I don’t think it’s been a massive box office success, but we are half way through it and we will see what happens.

There aren’t many feature films about the Black Power movement. Does this film come out of a need to have the language that you are speaking on the big screen?

 I can only speak from being a person of color living in the world, and I have a child, and what I want for my child going forward. It’s not necessarily stuff that I thought all that much about until I had a child, but I care what she watches, and I care about how she is going to grow up thinking about herself. I can clearly remember my entrance to this country when I was eight and what I thought prior to coming here versus what I thought when I was living here. I have a sense of what the world is like when you leave this country; especially when you go to a country that is all black versus what it’s like here. So all of those things really inspired me to think about what my responsibilities are and interests. I’ve traveled through Europe as a black person, and have traveled pretty far and wide and I have a sense of how people of color are perceived across the world. I think it’s weird, quite frankly, given how vast our presence and our language is here.

Do you have a specific purpose as a director?

I respect art and commerce equally, so I don’t want to make movies that no one will ever see. I want to find a way to make movies that are in the middle. My mandate is: How can I make movies that have a social or political relevance in the world that I live in? And how can these films reflect people of color, regardless of how brown you are?

Are you working on any other projects?

I’m working on my second film. I’m interested in modern Native American movement and culture, and so I’m trying to take pieces of that world to craft a story and see how it goes.

Tickets to”Night Catches Us” can be purchased online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/148065 or visit the Stuart Street Playhouse box office, open seven days a week from 2 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.