Posted by Julia Grigel
It's black history month, and the film "Night Catches Us" is a stirring tribute to an important segment of black history – the Black Panther movement.
Written and directed by Tanya Hamilton, the film takes an interesting perspective: it follows the struggle of two former Black Panthers, Marcus (Anthony Mackie) and Patricia (Kerry Washington), as they attempt to integrate their tragically radical histories and their current lives in 1970's Philadelphia.
The main Panthers movement has come to an end, but that certainly does not mean that violence and racism have vanished, and the two former extremists find that return to a normal life will be difficult, if possible at all.
Patricia is forced to confront a host of painful memories when Marcus, a former Panther and old comrade of her dead husband's, comes back to town after his unexplained four-year disappearance.
Both have attempted to leave behind the chaos of the early 70s, but to no avail: they end up tangled in a newly kindled romance as well as in a new wave of violent revolt.
Hamilton's script leaves something to be desired – there is very little contextual explanation of the various aspects of the plot. There is even less room for character development. But the two leads, Washington and Mackie, deliver tremendous performances, and the audience is ever aware of their emotional wounds.
The supporting actors delivered solid performances, although their roles are not always clearly defined. The most important supporting character, Jimmy (Amari Cheatom), a young and reckless cousin of Patricia's, surprisingly, serves as the climax of the film.
A political frame surrounds the film: the opening credits are superimposed onto images of Black Power protesters, and blatant political references flood the beginning of the film. Hamilton, however, transcends the realm of politics, turning the film into a moving portrait of two humans.
The politics of Hamilton's film ironically lies in its apolitical nature: what we get is not a film about the Black Panther movement, but a film about individuals, a directorial decision made intentionally.
Hamilton draws attention to this period of black history, with the intention of emphasizing the fact that the people behind the Black Panther movement are people with the same daily struggles as anyone, regardless of race.
"Not a lot of movies are made about black people just being people," she explained in a Washington Post interview. "I hope people can see the film and really connect to characters and take away the idea that humanity exists with people of color."
Sure, it would have been interesting to see a film about the Black Panther movement as a whole, but Hamilton gives us quite the opposite: she gives us individual lives in all of their brilliant tragedy.
And she does so without drugging us with a contrived, happy ending to go home with: she leaves us with a harsh, cold reality, with uncertainty and with the knowledge that overcoming past tragedies is, quite simply, really hard.