Director/writer Tanya Hamilton creates a dynamic and prevalent film about the plight of Black people in America. Night Catches Us takes place during the 1970s Black Power era, Marcus Washington (Anthony Mackie) returns home to his neighborhood in Philadelphia. Cops harass the residents. In this all-Black environment, there is immense tension. He reunites with an old friend, Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington). As things progress between Patricia and Marcus, he continues to harbor a dark secret that could be detrimental to the community. The 2010 film has a strong presence in today’s society, especially with the Black Lives Matter Movement. (SAT:5.5).
Review by Senior Contributor Stephanie A. Taylor
The chemistry between Mackie and Washington is effortless. Patricia is a struggling lawyer and single mother of a 9-year-old daughter named Iris (Jamara Griffin). As he carries one bag, a small television, and sleeps in his car, Patricia offers him a room. She’s entirely giving. She feeds the neighborhood kids. As Iris tells Marcus, “Ma’s in the kitchen feeding the whole neighborhood.” So, that gives you a feel for the character’s personality.
The actors do a phenomenal job with having you forget that you’re watching them perform. Each character brings an authenticity to their role. You feel as though you’re looking into lives and not a film. The film is well balanced. You’ll appreciate the bonds within the community. Iris and her friends are very close. Marcus and Patricia are rekindling their friendship. And Marcus and Iris’s relationship is adorable. In one particular scene, you’ll see them eating sandwiches and watching cartoons together. The cordial situation brings a bit of sweet innocence under so much intense drama. But you also won’t forget the acrimonious relationships. There’s not only tension between the cops and the residents. But conflicts from within. Marcus is called a “snitch,” and many of the guys see him as a hazard.
Iris is a curious 9-year-old who wants to know more about her father’s death. Patricia says that he was killed by cops when she was a baby. He was outraged when he found out that cops killed two Black Panthers. He, along with more Black Panthers, decides to kill a cop in retaliation. The people close to him, including Patricia and Marcus, tried convincing him otherwise to no avail. Her father dies where they still live.
The younger cousin of Patricia, Jimmy (Amari Cheatom), is very anti-cop and kills a random officer. The cops assail Patricia’s house in search of Jimmy. Before they raid her home, she has Iris recite what she should do if she comes in contact with a cop. Iris says, “When face to face with a policeman, I should keep my mouth shut. Say nothing unless asked. Answer questions with ‘yes sir, no sir’ unless they violate my civil rights. Then, put my hands on my head where they can see them. And, ask for a lawyer. Never make sudden moves. Never get angry.” The cops barge in and hold guns to Patricia and Iris as they’re on the floor and as Marcus gets beaten up. Jimmy is still on the run for a short period. The last few minutes leave suspense, curiosity, and a little bit of disappointment for the viewer.
This film gives you a bite of reality, and there’s never a dull moment. Some may feel uncomfortable watching. Others may relate. But the struggles of Black America are a harsh reality. Police brutality is alive and well. While this film was made in 2010 and took place in the 1970s, it shows how prominent racial tension is in the United States. BLM isn’t in existence until 2013. But the film and the movement are correlated with each other.
Q: Does Night Catches Us pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
Top Photo: Night Catches Us poster.
Middle Photo: Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington)
Bottom Photo: Marcus Washington (Anthony Mackie) and Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington)
Photo Credits: Anneke Schoneveld and IMDb