In Our Mothers' Gardens
Language, violence in docu with worthy messages.
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In Our Mothers' Gardens
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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."
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What's the Story?
IN OUR MOTHERS' GARDENS offers interviews with Black women about their life stories and the lessons they've learned from the women before them, namely their mothers and grandmothers. They talk about their hometowns and native countries, inherited cultures and traditions, family recipes and rituals, and they celebrate and reflect on the life experiences of their ancestors. They also reveal challenges in their own lives and their hopes for the future. Among those interviewed are the documentary's director, Shantrelle P. Lewis; #MeToo founder Tarana Burke; The Roots and Chris Rock tour manager Tina Farris; cultural critic Dr. Brittney Cooper of Rutgers University; Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames of Princeton University; Head of Inclusive Talent Outreach at Netflix, Erica Sewell; and NPR's Senior Director for Programming Yolanda Sangweni.
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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what some of the mothers and grandmothers described by the women interviewed in In Our Mothers' Gardens had in common.
What do you make of the title of this documentary? How did the film bring the idea of "gardens" to life on screen?
The film opens with a quote from Alice Walker, author of -- among other works -- a book of essays titled "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," and the documentary closes with a list of organizations and women to celebrate. Where could you go for more information about any of these?
How do the women interviewed show gratitude toward their ancestors? Why is this important in their lives? What have they inherited that they hope to change?
- On DVD or streaming: May 6, 2021
- Cast: Tarana Burke, Tina Farris, Brittney Cooper
- Director: Shantrelle P. Lewis
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character Strengths: Gratitude
- Run time: 84 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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