'Earth Mama' Review: Savanah Leaf Examines Motherhood, Shame And Longing In Directorial Debut For A24 (Sundance)
Photo Credit: A24
Film

'Earth Mama' Review: Savanah Leaf Examines Motherhood, Shame And Longing In Directorial Debut For A24 (Sundance)

There is so much longing in motherhood. There is a deep yearning for the past and a desire for the future. For Gia (Tia Nomore), a pregnant young mother desperate to get her two older children out of foster care, the pining is nearly unbearable. 

Based on her short film, The Heart Still Hums, Savanah Leaf’s Earth Mama follows Gia as she moves through the monotony of her day. She works 15 hours a week at a photo center, attends various court-ordered therapy and parenting courses, and races across town to visit her children for her weekly one-hour supervised visit. Exhaustion, guilt, and the whispers of her addiction weigh heavily on Gia, but her present circumstances seem permanent. 

With the impending birth of her third child, the typically quiet Gia reaches out to one of her therapists, Ms. Carmen (Erika Alexander), about a possible open adoption for her unborn child. It’s a devastating choice, but it is a decision Gia might be able to choose for herself. However, even considering the adoption puts Gia at odds with her best friend Trina (Doechii), who believes she should be doing everything possible to get her children back while retaining custody of her new baby. 

Earth Mama is gutting. The audience watches Gia wade through the anguish and anxiety of her instability. Her phone is on the verge of cutting off, her hourly wage isn’t enough to sustain herself, and her case worker is unforgiving. Gia’s desperation is showcased during one crucial scene in the film where she walks around a park, stealing a handful of diapers from the bottom of a parked stroller. The only time Gia feels at ease is when she’s near water or nature. Even her visits with her children seem to bring her pain. 

It would be easy to judge Gia. After all, her actions and irresponsibility have landed her children and herself in a state of constant instability. However, Nomore’s tenderness in the role and the endless obstacles that Gia faces force one to consider the entire picture. Generational traumas, persistent grief, and the unjust system she’s forced to endure all play a role. Even more heart-wrenching, Gia constantly dreams of the umbilical cord connecting her to her unborn baby, pulling and tugging at it to ensure their connection or sever it.

The performances in Earth Mama are outstanding, especially regarding Normore and Doechii. Moreover, Alexander is a poignant presence. She firmly presses Gia to grow up without shaming her for her choices. After all, as Earth Mama suggests for Gia and other mothers who find themselves in her circumstances, shame is a wasted emotion. 

Earth Mama premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 20, 2023. It will be released by A24 at a later date.

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