Directors Savanah Leaf and A.V. Rockwell Talk ‘Earth Mama’ and ‘A Thousand and One’

earth mama‘ opens with a fake-out of a young black woman named Zia (Tia Nomore) gleefully tickling a cooing newborn. But as the camera moves away, a more ambiguous reality is revealed. The baby belongs to an elderly couple who visited a portrait studio in a shopping mall to take her family photo, and a pregnant Jia wistfully watches over the baby.

Appearing early in Savannah Reef’s new big-screen drama, Earth Mama, Jia’s longing and loneliness take back custody of her two older children, who are now in foster care, and the next child is doomed. stems from her struggle to prevent suffering from Leaf describes the obstacles such mothers face: limited and closely supervised visits with their children, low-paying jobs, overt social workers, and labor-intensive parenting classrooms. And it poignantly explores the determination of mothers to reunite with their children.

The result has been a complex portrayal of black motherhood and a firm condemnation of child protective services for their disproportionate and punitive impact on black families. It is a system that scholar Dorothy Roberts describes as follows:family security” according to Recent researchFifty-three percent of all black youth will be screened for child welfare before they turn 18, almost twice as many as white youth.

In New York City, these racial disparities are even more pronounced. A 2020 racial equality audit conducted by the Child Welfare Department found that black families were seven times more likely to be accused of child abuse and 13 times more likely to have their children abducted than white families. .

Film director A.V. Rockwell said,thousand and one](Available on Amazon Prime). Instead, she gave Inez (Teyana Taylor) and her partner, Lucky (Will Catlett), through a desperate act to break this vicious cycle for their son, Terry, by New York’s child welfare system. Reveal the devastating impact in breathtaking form.

Both films premiered at Sundance this year, and “A Thousand and One” won the Grand Jury Prize, but they have two more things in common. It’s about empathizing with black mothers who are separated from their children without over-romanticizing their own protagonists. And unlike anything much older and with a similar theme.lose isaiah(1995) Starring Halle Berry, they argue that the most viable safety net for black children is their community of origin, without pathologizing their choices for better or worse. is doing so by

In a video interview with Leaf, a former Olympic volleyball player born in London and raised in the Bay Area, and Rockwell, who first made headlines for directing Alicia Keys’ short musical.gospeland raised in Queens, share their mutual appreciation of each other’s work and how they reject old cinematic stereotypes about black mothers without overcorrecting them. and explained why he felt unfair as a first-time actor in his feature debut. A perfect lead for their imperfect character. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Do you know each other?

AV Rockwell There are these parallel paths. Savannah was thrilled to attend the premiere of A Thousand and One at Sundance. I didn’t have the privilege of seeing her film there, but she’s been watching her ever since, and she was so wonderful, ma’am.

savanna leaf Thank you thank you. We’ve both done music videos and commercials for years, so I’ve seen the AV work. I didn’t know her through the entire process of this movie, but through all her work, I’ve seen her huge build up to this moment and her progress in that over the years.I am proud and excited about AV

The setting seems like a love letter to the different places you grew up in: New York City and Northern California.

Rockwell Before I knew what the story was going to be, I wanted to create a farewell story to New York, a story that made you realize what it meant to come of age in New York as a young woman. Ines is not young, but she is a young mother, so she has to grow up. And it’s also the story of New York, a rough and tough city akin to Innes’ rough and toughness, maturing into a tastier, more accessible city. So I was working with heartbreak watching how gentrification was changing a black-majority neighborhood like Harlem. New York is a villain in many ways.

leaf This movie is very nostalgic for me. I remember being in the Bay Area in the mid-2000s, and there was a real sense of community back then. Gia works at her Photo Magic. This studio is modeled after the real portrait her studio where everyone goes to take pictures of happy families in front of escapist backdrops. Everyone had their own version of a happy family, and it was always very beautiful, but it was also very painful.

The bay is also surrounded by redwood forests. This is where the people of the Bay, including Guia, come to seek refuge. I thought a lot about those trees and how strong they are and how they communicate with each other under the ground. Those roots represent her inner life, her connection to her Black female lineage, and the trauma she inherited and sometimes wants to get out of. I see beauty, strength and strength in that lineage.

Let’s talk about Ines and Zia. How did you create these flawed yet layered characters?

Rockwell Not being perfect was important to me. I think we’ve been so stereotyped in film and television that we often overcorrect. The film begins in her early ’90s, but it didn’t quite make sense to us as women, given the number of black classics that represented the urban experience released at the time. No context was given to our complex side. So I wanted to give back to the women of that time. Inez is a character who desperately wants to be loved. I don’t think black women have to be perfect, educated, or have the best careers to be loved. You deserve to be loved anyway.

leaf I’ve seen a lot of black women portrayed in movies, but I couldn’t relate to how they dealt with pain and persistence. So I wanted to make a movie that resonated with me through Gia and how she bounces back and deals with all the stresses in her life. I understand that there is a history of black mothers in cinema, but I don’t think I was trying to argue directly against that. For me, I just wanted to make it as true and honest as possible.

Rockwell I think honesty is a wonderful and important word.

Let’s talk about its powerful performance. Rapper Tia Nomore and singer Teyana Taylor will also make their film debuts. How did you know they would be your Zia and Ines respectively?

leaf At first, I was thinking of someone who would appear in every scene, so I was looking for an experienced actor who would be a good fit for the Bay Area and who was a recent mother to play Gia. But when we met Tia, she had given birth to a baby a year earlier, she was still breastfeeding, and we knew her physical nature that her labor was about to begin. I mean, she’d never acted before, but she was a performer, and she was born and raised in Oakland, so she knew a lot of the people in the film, and it was wild. There was already a sense of community before we started shooting.

Rockwell Teyana represented exactly the New York woman I was looking for. I wrote this character in a very nuanced way and I thought she could understand the psychology of the character even from the first time I read her. And since she has a performance background, I saw her bringing creativity to how she interpreted it. Her Teyana has her own story to tell, so she knew who this woman was in real life, like I did, and didn’t look down on her, so she loved this character. I was able to infuse it the right way and sympathize with her.

What made you want to stand up to the foster care system?

leaf If you look into the foster care system, you can see how broken the system is at every level. How does a mother attend all the necessary classes, hold a job, sometimes pay a foster family to care for her child, and get visitation time? What emotions will it give children? How do parents feel? And is it good for everyone? I wanted to portray this cycle that is almost impossible to escape. I am talking about children who grew up in foster care and had children of their own.

Rockwell Much of Innes’ journey is about what it means to be a woman within this community, much less what it means to be a woman who has gone through foster care. She protects Terry from the same experiences she went through, but who is protecting her? I was drawn to the foster care system because I saw how people who spent their childhood in foster homes were affected when they became adults and were no longer able to use the system. think. A large part of this film is about the meaning of home and the power of family. All of these things are what people in foster care want more than anything else. So this is a story about our community and our refuge and our desperate longing for a sense of home.

Your character responds to people’s threats by making controversial choices. How do you want viewers to react to difficult decisions without revealing too much?

leaf The woman at the beginning of my film speaks directly to this by saying, “You can’t walk in my shoes, but you can walk next to me.” What I was interested in was conveying to the audience her feelings for this black mother who is doing something very real and relatable, but also difficult to see. People make judgments when they see it directly. So it was very important to take the audience on this journey and be able to walk next to her. And hopefully, when that tipping point comes, they’ll still see her working hard to be the best mother she can be.

Rockwell It’s hard not to talk about the ending, but Inez’s decision to embark on this journey with Terry is the ultimate act of love. She’s trying to give this child the same love she wanted someone to give her when she was his age. If people can understand that, then they will also understand the crux of what we were trying to get to in the first place, this conversation about foster care and how it can really hurt people. . In some ways, I think it’s beautiful that Ines is trying so hard to break the cycle. She knows the power of her love as her actions. It’s about actually taking matters into her own hands when she needs to give someone the life she wanted, rather than just feelings and hopes for another human being.

Related Articles

Back to top button