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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Families matter, as do families' traditions, roots, and recipes. It's valuable to celebrate or honor your ancestors and heritage. This may be especially so for immigrant communities and people, like the descendants of enslaved people, whose ancestors were forcibly removed from their home countries and cultures. Church, religion, and spirituality can play an important role in people's lives. It's healthy to practice self care.
Positive Role Models
Black women recall their grandmothers as survivors and warriors who lead and protect families and pass down traditions. One is said to have been a "no- being-pushed-to-the-back-of-the-bus" type of woman. The women here come across as grateful for the strength their grandmothers and mothers passed down to them, but also aware of the limitations in the lives of earlier generations of Black women. They're aware of their own need for more self care and acknowledge the privilege they have of dedicating more attention to their own emotional well-being. The women interviewed all have successful and meaningful professional careers, in some cases despite very difficult childhood experiences. They show resilience and find strength in themselves and each other to get through traumatic events as well as life's passages, and to heal.
Violence & Scariness
Women tell stories from their lives as well as those of their mothers and grandmothers that include women carrying weapons, like a rifle, a knife, and a shotgun, for self protection, in one case from local KKK members and in another from concerns about "rape culture." A woman says her mother was shot by a man three times while pregnant, but she and the baby survived. A grandmother smashed a store window with a lead pipe after a boy smacked her granddaughter. A woman says she dealt with three deaths, including one suicide, over a short period of time. Another woman's family suffered the loss of a grandmother and two young kids in a house fire on Christmas Eve. One woman angrily calls White people an "exemplar of insanity" with "no regard for humanity." Sexual and physical abuse are both mentioned, as are trauma and depression. A woman suggests Black women are less healthy today than they were "on the plantations," despite abuse, and she cites high incidences of strokes, heart attacks, and early onset blindness.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A woman recalls family lore that said her dad "saw my mother's legs and fell in love." A grandmother is remembered for having 11 husbands and the refrain that men are like buses -- if you miss one, you can catch the next. Women talk about encountering "pleasure" as part of self care, and during the end credits, one jokes about "vagina kung fu" and shooting a ping pong ball out of herself.
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"F--kng," "motherf--kng," "s--t," "bitch," "ass," "badass," "damn."
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Products & Purchases
Several universities are mentioned, including Howard, Rutgers, and Princeton, and interviewees also work for companies like NPR and Netflix. There's a clip from a Black Moses Barbie commercial spoof.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Women describe their mothers and grandmothers drinking, smoking, getting drunk, and being addicted to crack cocaine.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that In Our Mothers' Gardens is a documentary from Ava DuVernay's ARRAY Releasing that features a series of professional Black women, including the film's director, Shantrelle P. Lewis, talking about lessons they've learned from their mothers and grandmothers. There's some language, descriptions of past violence and drug addiction, and women tear up talking about people they've loved, including some who are no longer alive. The mothers and especially grandmothers are described as tough out of necessity in mostly segregated societies (the US, but also elsewhere around the world). Some of the violence and injustices experienced by the ancestors of today's Black women are described, and the interviewees also mention their own difficulties, traumas, and past abuse. The passing down of uplifting traditions, including faith, culture, inner strength, and even food, is also described. There's a reckoning with some of the negative effects of historical contexts, including heavy drinking, drug abuse, poor health, a culture of silence, and emotional stunting. The women express gratitude to those who came before them and also awareness of their own positions of relative comfort, allowing them to focus more on self care. In one case, a woman talks about including "pleasure" as part of self care, and during the end credits she jokes about practicing "vagina kung fu" and shooting a ping pong ball out of herself. Language includes "f--kng," "motherf--kng," "s--t," "bitch," "ass," "badass," and "damn." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Women, especially women of color, will appreciate the honest, intimate, and insightful stories and sentiments this engaging documentary elicits from its subjects. Whether In Our Mothers' Gardens will speak to other audiences remains to be seen, but it's certainly worth the try. Some of the life experiences the interviewees describe aren't easy to swallow, yet the film is able to tackle subjects like slavery, racism, inequality, and abuse in a subtle and profound way through their personal anecdotes. That's a nod to the interviewing skills of director Lewis, who also tells her own story on screen, as well as to the subjects' willingness to share private, not always flattering, details about their lives and families. The message that Black women have lived a unique experience of struggle, but also of caretaking and torch-bearing, comes across loud and clear. The interviewees' descriptions of carrying on some traditions while also breaking out of past negative patterns offer a critical but simultaneously optimistic take.
The documentary does leave some topics less explored than others, and a case could be made that the film would've gained from a greater variety of female subjects. All of the women interviewed are successful professionals. Most are around the same age, which conditions the topics covered -- for example, their own motherhood doesn't come up. Director Lewis makes the alarming statement that Black women today are less healthy than they were "on the plantations," where they suffered a range of horrific abuses, but the film conspicuously avoids directly addressing the problem of obesity, even when one of the interviewees mentions weighing nearly 500 pounds at a difficult period in her life. The perspectives of the foreign-born interviewees and some of the older women are a nice complement, and the colorful framing of the documentary's subjects with photographs and layers of photo-shopped images of flowers and leaves, proverbial "gardens," was a bold but attractive choice. As one woman summarizes, "You can't have a short memory and be Black." This film offers a tribute to the memory of Black women who have come before and a vision of where some today are headed.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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