Earth Mama. 2023. USA. Directed by Savanah Leaf. New York Premiere. 97 min.
A devastating and evocative portrait of motherhood refracted through the prisms of race and class, Savanah Leaf’s auspicious debut feature (expanding upon her documentary short, The Heart Still Hums ) is a deeply affecting work of cinematic humanism. Set in the Bay Area, the film follows Gia (portrayed with immense complexity by Oakland rapper Tia Nomore) as she contends with pregnancy and poverty while longing for her children (who have been placed in foster care) and dodging Child Protective Services in the fear that they’ll take her soon-to-be-born baby from her as well. Facing an impossible situation, Gia warms to the idea of giving her baby up for adoption, and connects with a well-meaning, middle-class couple (Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Bokeem Woodbine), who could potentially give the child a better life. But a constellation of factors—especially Gia’s own sense of guilt—lays bare the fact that, for Gia, there is simply no way to win. Lensed in richly textured 16mm by Jody Lee Lipes, Earth Mama is both a heartrending film about a young woman grappling with the most fundamental questions of motherhood amid utterly hostile socioeconomic conditions, and a formally sophisticated work that suggests and conjures rather than facilely connecting the dots for us. An A24 release