Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Monday, March 3, 2014

Movie Review: Night Catches Us

Enough with gender politics let's talk about something of which I can speak about with a little bit more authority.

I have a bit of a problem with most movies dealing with race. At this point in history most of them serve to give the audience exactly what they want. And what they want is the same story. You know the one. About a young black man, who is really good at something, but the world won't or rather one asshole won't let him just do it. So he has to spend the entire movie proving that guy wrong until finally sheer skill wins the asshole over. I've seen it and it bores me.

Look racism is bad. In real life I will argue that point on my deathbed, but the, "overcoming" story is not the only story about race you can tell. Especially if you want evoke a sense of realism. I'm black and I'm always black, but I'm also other things. People are complicated.

Night Catches Us is another story.

It's a story about Black people rather than a story with Black people in it. And as a film that's kind of weird. It's not about telling a story but exploring the characters mental framework, how they think and how their race informs that.

The story follows a group of people where were formally affiliated with the Black Panther party until the assassination of one of its leaders. The story doesn't take place in the immediate aftermath but rather the "tomorrow" of it.

The when it comes to the black power aspect of it the only person who is overtly spouting that rhetoric is the youngest male main character, Jim, and the story frames it as naive.  While not having been in the party like the older characters at least in the beginning, he has bought the talk, hook line and sinker, he has his reasons, being stiffed on payment and arrested by racists, but he's also been getting into more and more confrontations with the cops and is starting to put himself and his family in danger. To the more seasoned characters who have gone through this already this is worrisome. The film understands that the Black Panther movement was complex, and its characters are as well.

What ultimately makes the movie is a passionate monologue by Patty, the leader's Neil's widow, played Kerry Washington of Scandal but I can't talk about it without spoiling the movie. The film is framed in a way where there is a lot of tension but we the audience don't know why, until the monologue.



Jim isn't the protagonist the film actually follows a family friend Marcus as he tries to make peace after having returning to the community, and starting a relationship with Jim's cousin the widow. Everybody seems to have it in for Marcus but the movie doesn't reveal why until Patty's monologue and later Marcus' continuation of it.

Being in the Panthers pretty much made her and her husband a target from the cops. Eventually two friends of theirs were killed and her husband killed a cop in retribution. The authorities were threatening to take her kids when Marcus (it was actually Patty) decided that they were more important and gave up Neil not realizing he was going to end up dead. It's a really powerful scene because of the acting, and not just of the adults. For most of the movie the kid, Iris, has been dropping adult like hints that she knows she isn't living a normal life. She knows her Mom doesn't go out. She knows the cops have bugged her phone, she knows how people talk about her dad. And she keeps asking why.

The monologue is Patty answering that question.

But all of that is back story. And it pretty much all happens again, except the first time the old guard immediately knew how stupid and crazy cop killing was but the younger guys represented by Jim, are much more militant getting swept up in the "legend". Well things fall apart.

I guess I could do a critical reading of the movie and I might later but really I just want to talk about what I said previously. It's a movie that talks about race and racism in a complex way beyond that of the usual. It has it's flaws, but I'm glad it exists. If we really want to create a post-racial society we have to be to really examine and and analyze race and racism, rather than just putting it in the "bad history" box, and this movie does that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Facebook Comments

Note: These Comments are from all across this blog.