This opening weekend is the first in a long time that I’ve been excited for. About two months ago, I marked my google calendar in anticipation for the releases of Night Catches Us, directed by Tanya Hamilton, and Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky.

I actually caught a pre-screening of this film at my school when Tanya Hamilton visited my program’s Guest Artist Workshop. I found the story and the screenplay captivating in structure, subtlety, and tension. On-screen chemistry between Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington was sizzling. However, what I found most interesting about the film was Hamilton’s premise for writing and developing it. Her inspiration for the film was one of her mother’s friends who was involved in a Civil Rights Sit-in at the White House in the 1960s, and whose life was deeply affected by it. Hamilton was concerned with people like her, who “burn bright” at such a young age, being involved in social movements, and then must live in the afterglow, destruction, and repercussions of their involvement, while leading so-called “normal” lives, raising children, and working a 9-5. This was a very dynamic concept to me. I thought about so many former freedom riders, black panthers, and Civil rights activists who walk through the world each day, their struggles and past lives invisible to the present world. The characters in Night Catches Us inhabit a very unique moment in time, attempting to carry on with normal life and love amidst the still-potent embers of the Black Panther Party and its complex legacy on them and the country. Please see this film, if not only for the story but for its rich, slice of life cinematography, layered performances, the Roots’ musical score, and a stunning debut by Tanya Hamilton.

I saw this movie tonight. The theater was packed and I would say rightfully so. I appreciate Aronofsky’s work and his visceral, stomach-clenching exactness when it relates to human emotion and unraveling. This is evident in all of his films, and he delivers once again with Black Swan. It’s very much a psychological thriller, with lots of obsessive compulsive behavior, pointe shoes, and eroticism. It may be kinda scary but I think one of main reasons I appreciated the film was because I connected with the main character, Nina, (played phenomenally by Natalie Portman), in a real way. Not so much in her extreme mental episodes, but in her need to be the best, to prove herself even to her own self that she could be both the White Swan and Black Swan. It’s a very terrifying feeling to be trapped in your own mental hysteria and doubts when trying to advance at a given task, especially when related to art. One starts to turn on them self, seeing their own body as an enemy of sorts. I found this thematic thread to be fascinating, something that I immediately latched onto and watched in anticipation as the writers and director explored the depths of it.

Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is always fresh and dynamic to me- here he really comes alive. The ballet scenes are particularly precise- I’m always interested in how directors frame scenes with extensive movement- dance, sports, etc. Aronofsky utilizes extensive POV shots, especially in a scene where Portman turns and pirouettes repeatedly, creating a delirious, dizzy feeling in the audience. Here and in other scenes, Aronofsky and Libatique work together to transform the camera into a ballerina itself- it moves with such grace, dollying between the bodies of the dancers and floating with a precision that makes it hard to believe it is even on stage with them and not flying through the air. Aside from its haunting, self-destructive world, the film included an interesting subplot of a mother/daughter relationship between Nina and her mother, a former ballerina gone- old, and also eerily doting and protective of Nina. All these components made for a very disturbing, memorable movie experience.

Okay, so that actually turned out to be more of a review than I intended. I guess I can’t help it. I love cinema and seeing these two films on the big screen was a treat.  Support quality cinema directed by black women!!! and Black Swan too…