Thursday, February 20, 2014

DVD Review - Mother of George (Black History Month)

Danai Gurira in "Mother of George"
For this Black History Month, I wanted to spotlight films that came out within the past year that focused or drew attention to the black experience or portrayed it on the big screen. Aside from "black," the term "African-American" is also used to refer to all people of African descent whether they were born in the United States and their family were born in America going back to the time of the slave trade, or whether they're actual immigrants from Africa. Most films that people see of African-Americans are of the former rather than the latter. This film by Andrew Dosunmu, his second feature, is instead about the latter. It's about Nigerian immigrants in New York City, specifically a Nigerian couple who has recently married and who is trying to make a life for themselves in Brooklyn. Nigerian immigrants, by the way, represent the largest number of African immigrants in the USA. Egyptian immigrants are second largest, followed by Ethiopian and Ghanaian.

Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) stars as Adenike, a Nigerian woman who at the opening of the film has just married Ayodele Balogun, played by Isaach De Bankolé (Casino Royale and The Limits of Control). We see Adenike and Ayodele dressed in traditional, African wedding clothes in purple as they attend the reception were everyone is dressed in African garb, rich in colors of orange and higher hues. There is singing and dancing and blessings all around. It's beautiful.

It doesn't take long before Adenike's mother-in-law Ma Ayo Balogun, played by Bukky Ajayi, a Nollywood actress, gives Adenike a fertility gift as well as another gift that's all about having a child. It also doesn't take long before Ayodele's groomsmen, which includes his brother Biyi Balogun, played by Anthony Okungbowa, start to tell him to get busy making babies. Okungbowa is a British actor who has dual citizenship with the United States. He was a DJ for The Ellen DeGeneres Show and he was a part of Dosunmu's previous film Restless City.

Adenike and Ayodele settle into their home in Brooklyn. It's clear that Adenike is also settling into her traditional, gender role of a housewife, doing the cooking and cleaning, and being the future bearer of Ayodele's children, hopefully a son to be named George. The problem is that after a year and a half of rigorously trying Adenike still hasn't gotten pregnant and a stigma from the family, particularly from her mother-in-law, starts to form against Adenike.

Screenwriter Darci Picoult in her first feature script reveals correctly how insular and isolated these immigrants can be, and how tied to their old world traditions. Adenike has a best friend named Sade, played by Yaya Alafia (Big Words and Lee Daniels' The Butler). Sade is not as traditional. She's younger. She's more liberal, more Americanized. Sade encourages Adenike to go against those old world customs by wearing more revealing clothes, much to Ayodele's chagrin.

After this, Ayodele as well as his mother are resistant to have him go to an American doctor to see if he's the problem as to why Adenike hasn't gotten pregnant or whether it's her. With the pressure mounting for her to have a baby, Adenike is put into a precarious spot. Her mother-in-law then suggests something outrageous, which is something that might be suggested on a soap opera, but there's a question if what's suggested is something cultural to Nigeria.

Whether it is or it isn't, this whole thing shows how the culture on display really reinforces traditional gender roles where women are only there to be subservient to their husbands and to bear sons for their men, as well as the lengths they'll go through to fit into that role. Through this story, the hypocrisies with a lot of the thought processes are exposed. The burdens put on women are also exposed.

Gurira gives a great performance in exposing those things. In a moment after sex, the look on her face and her body language shows how great an actress she is. She seems so desperate to get pregnant that after sex, the hope and fear infects her deeply. The music by Philip Miller help along with the cinematography by Bradford Young who won the Sundance Film Festival Award "for expressive use of naturalistic lighting."

Young has shot a lot of black films, including two, other award winners at the Sundance Film Festival that are African-American films: Pariah (2011) and Middle of Nowhere (2012). Director Dosunmu uses his camerawork to good effect and edits scenes focusing on Gurira in long, continuous takes that really put you into her head. All of their efforts have been recognized. The National Board of Review named Mother of George as one of its Top Ten Independent Films. It's tops for me too.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexuality, some language and a disturbing image.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.
In English and Yoruba language.
 

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