Monday, February 2, 2015


Somewhere between a Greek tragedy & a Shakespearean-style comedy (although set in modern day downtown Brooklyn with a mostly African cast) lies Andrew Dosunmu's Mother Of George (2013).
Every year after posting my year in review I always regret the placement of at least one film in my top 10 or honorable mention. Mother Of George was no doubt in my top 20 of 2013, but in the unofficial rankings I had it beneath stuff like Frances Ha & Her. I still like Frances Ha & Her, but definitely not as much as I did 18 months ago. They've both cooled off quite a bit while Mother Of George only gets better each time I watch it (without giving too much away, I used to have an issue with what I thought was a plot-hole but now I know it was needed in order to keep the story going). If I could go back and redo my list I'd put it in that same unique spot that I made for A Most Violent Year in 2014 - not exactly a top-10 movie but better than an honorable mention.
Mother Of George is quietly impressive in that it's great qualities (the cinematography, the ambiance & certain isolated scenes) slowly creep up on you weeks after you watch it.
But at the same time, this is the kind of film that could easily get overlooked (at no fault of the film or filmmaker). Besides being a smaller indie film, it shows black characters in situations that aren't exactly typical within most prominent films. What do I mean by “typical”? Mother Of George has nothing to do with any kind of racial struggle, poverty or magical negroisms. I mean, the subject of slavery alone kind of became a “thing” between 2012 (Django) through 2013 (12 Years A Slave & The Beginning of The Butler).
And please understand that in no way am I trying to downplay racism, slavery, poverty & struggle among Black people. The acts that are covered in films like Selma & 12 Years A Slave directly (and indirectly) affected my life (as far as stuff like The Butler, Django & The Help, I really have nothing nice to say so I'll just be quiet). I would even go so far as to defend certain aspects of Selma against its detractors who criticized the film for not incorporating any of Martin Luther King's real speeches due to his family not allowing them to be used in the film. Anyone who has a problem with that surely must have issues with Spike Lee's Malcolm X. I know I haven't read The Autobiography Of Malcolm X in quite some time, but last time I checked, the character of Banes wasn't even a real person and Malcolm X's introduction in to Islam is a little different from the book than it is in the film. But no one seems to have a problem with that. And at the end of the day they really shouldn't because Malcolm X is an excellent film. Spike Lee had his legitimate reasons for certain omissions as did Ava Duvernay. 

But at the end of the day I guess what I'm really trying to say is that Black people do/did more than just march for justice or swallow their pride and serve white people (and it's not like Selma's lack of Oscar nominations are going to diminish the work/iconic status of Martin Luther King Jr). Black people sometimes find themselves in the midst of complex family situations (like the family in Mother Of George). Black people embrace the beauty of their culture & ethnicity (like the close-knit African community in Mother Of George). Black people also find themselves in peculiar situations that fall within the grey area between funny & fucked up (like our female protagonist in Mother Of George). But mainstream/prominent cinema would have you think otherwise (there are obviously exceptions to what I'm saying but bottom line, my generalization is perfectly just).

In Mother Of George, we follow “Adenike”. Adenike is the loyal wife of Brooklyn restaurant owner/mama's-boy “Ayodele” (Isaach Debankole). They're under pressure from their Brooklyn-based Nigerian community to have children (most of the pressure comes from Ayodele's quietly domineering mother) but they're having fertility problems. Its not quite laid out for us in black & white, but it's implied that Ayodele's sperm count is low, yet everyone seems to blame Adenike (besides, family, loyalty & community, Mother Of George also tackles gender equality & double standards between men & women). 
After a while, Adenike is pressured by her mother-in-law to do something incredibly wrong in order to get pregnant.
The main character here may be a woman, but that doesn’t stop Andrew Dosunmu from exploring the seriousness (and sometimes silliness) of manhood & “manning up”. In addition to Ayodele being in denial about his low sperm count and not wanting to go to a fertility clinic to get help, he also doesn’t want Adenike to work because he’s stuck in the old fashioned ways of his parents where the man is the main bread winner. But no matter how stubborn and “old fashioned” Ayodele may be, he’s still a stand-up guy (the final seconds of MoG couldn’t convey the idea of “manning up” any better).

I find it funny that so many people were up in arms about Selma only getting three Oscar nominations when a year earlier, something like Mother Of George (shot, much better, by the same cinematographer as Selma) got no support outside of The Brooklyn Academy Of Music, Sundance, this very website you're reading right now or quick blurbs on Film Comment & Time Out. Where was the outcry for MoG not getting enough acknowledgement for it's excellent cinematography? I'm not exagerating when I say Mother Of George has one of the greatest opening scenes from this decade so far. It also shows a side of New York City/Brooklyn that we don't get to see too often in modern-day indie cinema.

I'm sure anyone reading this right now is aware of the recent public outrage expressed by folks who were disappointed in the lack of Oscar nominations that Selma received a few weeks ago. But I can't help but think that if Selma was nominated in every possible Oscar category, everyone would have been perfectly complacent. That's a problem to me because Selma is just ONE movie. While everyone is up in arms hashtagging “#Oscarsowhite” all over social media (because ONE movie didn't get enough nominations) there's been nice handful of films to come out in the last few years that, in my opinion, are a breath of fresh air in terms of how black people are portrayed on the big screen, but large black audiences don't seem to get behind them like they did Selma or The Butler or Precious or any of that other stuff. I know films like Newlyweeds (a smart stoner romantic comedy), Black Venus (a biopic on Sarah Bartmaan), Pariah (a film about homosexuality among young black women), A Band Called Death (a documentary about a pioneering all-Black punk band), Big Words (a film that touches on homosexuality in Hip-Hop) and other somewhat "progressive" films concerning Black people aren't always playing in major theaters, but at the same time, it's 2015. Outlets like Hulu & Netflix exist so its a lot easier to seek these movies out (I saw Pariah, Black Venus & Newlyweeds in the theater but I live in New York City). And as far as not knowing about these films existing to begin with, I blame publications like, Ebony, Essence and other like-minded news sources that clearly don't seek out or push films that aren't Oprah/David Oyelowo/Lee Daniels/Tyler Perry-related (so I don't have to repeat myself, just read this piece from a few years ago).


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