Tuesday, March 15, 2011

After the Revolution

Night Catches UsSlaves in the United States were emancipated in 1863.  But slaves in Texas did not learn they had been emancipated until mid-June 1865 (and so some African-Americans recognize June 19 or "Juneteenth" as a day of celebration).  The fact that it took over two years for the news of freedom to reach the slaves in Texas is somewhat symbolic of the longtime struggle of black civil rights in this country.   While watching Tanya Hamilton's film Night Catches Us, I was instantly reminded of the Texas slaves and their two years in limbo and the precarious nature of life after a hard fought war.  Of course the film is not at all about slavery.  Set in 1976, the film tells the story of Marcus (Anthony Mackie), a former Black Panther, who has just returned to his hometown of Philadelphia to attend the funeral of his father.  We learn that many of Marcus's comrades believe he is a snitch and had something to do with  one of their leaders dying at the hands of police.  Marcus reconnects with Patty (Kerry Washington) and ten-year old Iris who are the wife and daughter of the Panther on whom Marcus allegedly snitched.  Although the turbulent sixties have long gone, Patty still does the work of the party--feeding the neighborhood kids and taking on the legal cases of members harassed by the police.  The Panthers are in disarray, fighting amongst themselves at the local bar and taking petty jibes at the police.  Marcus finds Patty at odds because she won't talk about the past and Iris, ever curious about the "ghosts" around her, can only speculate about how her father died.  It is not until Iris literally exposes the blood on the walls that Patty and Marcus are forced to divulge the "truth" about Iris's father's death.  Interspersed with snippets of news footage, we get a glimpse of the Panther movement in retrospect and watch how the past affects the present lives of these characters.  How does a revolutionary get on with life in a new reality where the revolution is over?

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