The Root Interview: Tanya Hamilton on 'Night Catches Us'

Young director Tanya Hamilton has attracted major buzz for her new film, Night Catches Us. She talked to The Root recently about getting Kerry Washington, Anthony Mackie and the Roots involved in her project and what it's like being a black female director.

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Film director Tanya Hamilton isn't a household name yet, but the craftsmanship of her new film, Night Catches Us, will certainly make her one. The film takes a complicated look at the Black Panther Party in 1976 and examines how the political organization and the black power movement affected the intimate relationships of the people involved in it. The relationship central to the narrative is between Marcus and Patricia, played brilliantly by critically acclaimed actors Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington

Hamilton's film is based on the true story of a family friend, Carol Lawson-Green, who helped raise her. Lawson-Green went to prison for a year after she organized a protest at the White House following the Selma march and "Bloody Sunday." Hamilton was always interested in how these events shaped Lawson-Green's life, for better or worse.

The Root wanted to find out out just who this young woman is who has made such a provocative film that speaks to so many issues. We learned that she is everything such a complex work suggests she would be: cerebral, brilliant, humble, thoughtful, opinionated, complicated, clear, laser-focused, holistic, brave, afraid and courageous. Yes, we deduced all of this in less than an hour. In an industry that can be cookie-cutter, that is pretty refreshing.

The Root: How is a first-time director able to pull together a cast that includes Kerry Washington, Anthony Mackie, Jamie Hector and Wendell Pierce?

Tanya Hamilton: It was timing and having a compelling screenplay. We were looking to make this film right when the Screen Actors Guild strike was going to happen, so the timing was right for them to consider a smaller project. I also think that the politics were particularly important to Anthony and Kerry because it connected them to characters who were layered in a way that would speak to African-American actors.

TR: The Roots did the sound track. How did you decide to work with them?

TH: I knew their agent at Paradigm, and it was actually her suggestion. I always liked them a lot, but I never thought they would be a possibility for us -- you know, because they're the Roots. We all sat down and thought of how we wanted to have a three-tier approach to the music -- present, past and future -- which is important in the movie and needed to be reflected in the music. It was a collaborative process, and I can honestly say that the Roots were instrumental to this film because they are the glue that holds the sound together.

TR: What is your all-time favorite film?

TH: Nicolas Roeg's Walk About. I love his earlier movies. They're upside down, crazy, weird. I like the space in those a lot. Raoul Peck's Lumumba [and] Sometimes in April. Mean Streets. I admire subtlety -- films with much more of a '70s bent. That's the era of character, when character ruled.

TR: What are your feelings about the challenges that black female directors face?