A pregnant single mother, with two children in foster care, embraces her Bay Area community as she fights to reclaim her family.
Earth Mama is a drama about Motherhood: wanting children, having children, fighting to keep them- and if you are black, poor, make occasional poor decisions, losing them to the Department of Child Services and well meaning adoption agencies with too many clients than there are desperate mothers.
This is a movie where meaningful family time is measured in supervised minutes. It’s about the grief of separation from those beautiful things you gave birth to. The pain is quiet. It builds up and at the right moment, if you are watching closely, it unsettles your soul.
Savanah Leaf, in her directorial debut, has made an intimate film that creates artistry from the small scale observation of the quiet pain of mothers denied the intimate moments of motherhood. She creates heartache with a single camera movement. Leaf shows her main character, Gia (Tia Nomore) in tight, circumscribed scenes that depict her unsteady horizons, her crushing limitations.
Gia’s mostly futile attempts to cooperate with the system and get her kids back is the main focus. The big stumbling block in the caseworkers eyes- Gia is pregnant again. Gia is struggling against the stereotype of the welfare mother while living it. It’s a struggle that can’t be resolved without system prejudice and personal heartache.
Leaf refuses to punishes or demonize Gia. The system does enough of that. Leaf ‘s light touch reflects the beauty in the pain, the hope in the heart. It keeps Earth Mama from bleakness.
The open adoption that occupies the film’s second half focuses the drama on two well meaning sides stuck with the cruel options that the system leaves them.
Her short documentary film, The Heart Still Hums provided Leaf with the balanced expressionism and Impressionism that is Earth Mama’s strength. It allows Leaf to show Gia’s inner life and the world pressing in on her.
Leaf expands this further in the confessions of women who are attending the same required program needed to get their children back. The irony and heartache is uniquely powerful. We see the tragedy these women are hoping to escape and overcome.
By focusing on Gia’s existential reality- her habits, the pleasure she gets from her job, the awkwardness of her gait — Leaf humanizes Gia. Leaf leaves us to live in Gia’s reality and fill in the silences and the things that must be unsaid. Really, there is no need. We have seen it and know it intimately. It prevents Gia from being a lecture on black motherhood. It pulls her away from the stereotype we all entertain.
Earth Mama gets a 3.5 out of 5 or a B+. It can be streamed on Amazon Prime PPV.
The Heart Still Hums
by Savanah Leaf
and Taylor Russell
- Cody Ryder
- Shirley O’Connor
- Medb Riordan
- Savanah Leaf
- Tia Nomore
- Keta Price
- January 20, 2023(Sundance)
- July 7, 2023(United States)
- United States
- United Kingdom