Tanya Hamilton’s first feature-length film, Night Catches Us, stems from her fascination with a family friend’s story of receiving a one-year jail sentence for organizing a 1965 sit-in at the White House. Hamilton spent more than a decade raising funds to make a top-notch film about this experience, which starred Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie and debuted to critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010.

Carol Lawson-Green, a friend of Hamilton’s mother and the impetus for Night Catches Us, served jail time for leading a protest against the violence in Selma, Albama. Hamilton observed how those events affected the rest of Lawson-Green’s life and became fascinated with exploring the history of that era on film. After finishing the script in the Sundance Filmmaker Labs in 1999, Hamilton patiently struggled for nearly a decade to get the “”unmarketable”” picture made, ultimately overcoming the Hollywood system and attracting a skilled cast and crew worthy to tell her story.

Tanya Hamilton is making history … by turning her passion for a civil rights story into a feature-length film. Night Catches Us explores an important facet of not-so-distant American history. By weaving the themes, history, and emotions of Carol Lawson-Green’s story, the film explores the long-term effects of the Black Panther Party on those who experienced the Civil Rights Movement firsthand. Released in December, the feature adds a unique point of view to the array of films in 2010, and marks Hamilton as a director to watch.

WATCH TRAILER FOR ‘NIGHT CATCHES US’:

What’s next for Tanya?

While the director has no films slated for production in the immediate future, she is writing a feature film titled TRIBE, “about two estranged brothers, one Native American, the other Native and black, who are forced back together to defend their tribal land from ruthless politicians,” Hamilton told theGrio.

In her own words …

“It’s great to do the gangster movies and Tyler Perry,” says Hamilton of films that cater to broad audiences or African-American audiences, respectively. “But… there’s no great content in the center. That’s where I come in. This is my first film, and I hope to make more.””

A little-known fact …

Of the films released in the 1990s only 28 were directed by African-American women and of those 28, only three saw wide releases.

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