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.
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?
TH: There aren't a lot of black women making movies, which I find interesting in a way. I've blindly not really thought of it. I'm race obsessed, and that has been the lens through which I walk through the world. Making the film has made me think about my gender in a way I had previously not bothered [to]. Film is a very male-dominated world, and those positions are very protected. I think it's interesting in terms of what gets defined as a woman's film as opposed to a regular film. I haven't figured it out yet. I don't have a theory -- at least not a smart one.
TR: Do you have a theory on any subject that you'd like to share?
TH: One theory I have is about what I'd like to do as a filmmaker. We as filmmakers live in extremes. You have sort of this specialty world -- the Caucasian world that is enormous. [White filmmakers] go into the Hollywood world or the independent world and have so many options. You look at that world of African-American cinema, but it doesn't really exist. I know there are a lot of people who want to see films that defy class -- films that live at the center, not at the extremes. We need to figure out how to make content for [moviegoers who want to see films that transcend class and race] and to market it so that people will come out and see it.
TR: What's next for you?
TH: I want to do this thing about these two brothers who are Native American and one of them is half black. I'm very interested in that world and worlds that are underexplored. I am very interested in what we view as an old-world society. What does it mean to be modern and Native American?
TR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
TH: Black filmmakers need to pay closer attention to how we market films. The biggest heartbreak is when you see how much work went into marketing your film and learn that so few people went to see it. No one involved in commerce wants to get involved in something that won't make money. We have to figure out a way to marry art and commerce. That is the secret to these specialty films. How do I deal with audience and marketing -- how do I shove the two things together while maintaining the integrity of the film?
Nsenga Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root, where she writes the Buzz section and contributes regularly. She is also a media scholar whose expertise includes race, class, gender and sexuality. Burton is an assistant professor at Goucher College and recently completed a chapter on South African soap operas for an anthology on black popular culture.