Born and raised in Jamaica, Tanya Hamilton came to the United States to study filmmaking at Cooper Union and Columbia University. Her short film ‘The Killers’ won an award at the 1996 Berlin International Film Festival, and she then spent the next decade developing her feature film debut ‘Night Catches Us.’ That period drama about Black Panthers debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Best First Feature that same year at the Independent Spirit Awards. In the decade since the film’s release, she has directed quite a television episodes, including ‘Queen Sugar,’ ‘Black Lighting,’ ‘The Deuce,’ and ‘The Chi.’ Hamilton’s work is rooted where the personal and political collide. As she told the Washington Post, “I am interested in making films that have social and political relevance.”
‘Night Catches Us’ was written over a ten-year period and was inspired by the story of Carol Lawson-Green, a close friend of Hamilton’s mother. In 1965, Lawson-Green took part in a student-organized protest at the White House to address the treatment of Black people in Selma, Alabama. Her involvement in the protest led to a six-month jail sentence for a crime normally punished by a simple fine. Hamilton became interested in exploring the interpersonal dynamics of the protest movements during this era and the inequality of the justice system. Set in Philadelphia in 1976, ‘Night Catches Us’ follows former Black Panther Marcus (Anthony Mackie), returning home for the first time since his incarceration. He reconnects with Patricia (Kerry Washington), whose husband’s death he may or may not have caused. Sparks fly immediately, and it’s clear there’s something more to their story, as Patricia’s daughter Iris (Jamara Griffin) slowly learns. The film is buoyed by strong performances from Mackie and Washington (whose chemistry is hot, hot, hot) as well as an unsettling supporting turn from Wendell Pierce as a crooked cop. Shot on location and featuring a soul-stirring score by Philadelphia natives The Roots, ‘Night Catches Us’ finds the universal in the situation, while feeling distinctly of a certain time and place. Hamilton’s film doesn’t offer easy answers or a happy ending, a bit like life itself. ‘Night Catches Us’ is available on Amazon Prime.