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Earth Mama: Savanah Leaf’s debut celebrates the strength and vulnerability of motherhood

Leaf beautifully captures the beauty and vulnerability of motherhood, whilst bringing to attention the broken systems that struggling mothers are up against, specifically Black women.

By Lara Lippin, Third Year, English

Earth Mama (2023) is a triumphant win from former Olympic athlete turned director, Savanah Leaf. Released by the critically acclaimed studio A24 and inspired by Leaf and Taylor Russell’s short film The Heart Still Hums, Earth Mama explores the bittersweet struggle of motherhood through the eyes of a single mother Gia (played by San-Francisco musician Tia Nomore).

We are introduced to Gia; heavily pregnant, visiting her son and daughter under close supervision. It is clear that the physical and emotional weight of motherhood is already heavy on Gia’s shoulders, as she tells her children she’s ‘trying her best’ to get them back. The intimate close-up shots of Gia and her children in the enclosed space reflect the claustrophobic supervision around Gia’s life.

In order to break free from this, Gia works as a photographer at a dismal photo shop where she artificially curates the perfect family image, despite her reality being the opposite. Although the father of Gia’s children remains absent, Gia has a strong support system within her local community. Gia’s chosen family includes her best friend Trina (played by the magnetic musician Doechii) and social worker Miss Carmen (actress and writer Erika Alexander), who act as grounding figures in her life.

Although the single mothers share a close bond, we watch Gia and Trina clash over Gia’s decision to give her unborn child up for adoption. Trina, who is extremely religious, questions why Gia is straying from God’s path. However, it becomes apparent that Gia’s choice is out of necessity. Miss Carmen gracefully guides Gia in her search for her baby’s new family, whilst ensuring that Gia remembers she is no less of a mother for making this heart-wrenching decision.

Gia’s internal struggle is perfectly captured by Tia Nomore’s introspective performance of a mother trying to figure out what is best for her children whilst simultaneously struggling with her own trauma. As a single Black woman, she is penalised for what she does and doesn’t do, which makes it hard to criticise Gia’s relapse into her old habits of destruction. Rather than condemning Gia’s addictions, Leaf emphatically highlights how the broken systems that target single Black mothers trigger destructive cycles, which for Gia appears to be a form of escapism from the weight of discrimination she experiences.

Nomore’s reflective demeanour ties together beautifully with the dissociative sequences of Gia finding solace in nature. In conversation with W Magazine, Savanah Leaf explains how these sequences show Gia surrounding herself with the earth as 'a way of connecting to her bloodline, her ancestry, her mother, her mother’s mother'. Mother Nature is a peaceful home for Gia. These ethereal moments are brought to life by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes' decision to shoot Earth Mama on film, adding the perfect level of nostalgic warmth to the heavy subject matter explored.

Earth Mama is a powerful and life-affirming film that highlights the physical and emotional journey of motherhood, emphasising the importance of improving the welfare systems in place for mothers and children.

Featured Image: IMDb