This is clear from the very first scene, when a woman faces the camera with her hands in her pockets, speaking at a support group for mothers like Gia. “This is my journey; it’s not someone else’s journey. No one is going to walk in these shoes on my feet,” she said. “You can hold my hand, you can look back from afar. You still can’t feel how I feel.” This is Tiffany Garner, who also appeared in “The Heart Is Still Humming” “Sound” . “I was sitting next to the camera and she was talking to me, and it was very powerful,” Leaf said. Here, as at other moments in the film, what was initially scripted dialogue turns into the actors’ own words. These especially echo throughout Earth Mama
: Leaf’s work invites the viewer to walk with her characters and observe a unique portrait of motherhood.
There’s a moment in the movie when Gia’s friends call her “Mom” and Gia retorts, “I’m not your mom.” I asked Yeh, and she wasn’t either Mother, how this moment, this word, resonated with her. “My sister’s daycare teacher called these little girls ‘mom’ or friends would look at me and call me ‘mom’. I would pass people on the street and they would yell at me and call me ‘mom’ ‘,”she says. “I’m thinking about how in all these different contexts we’re called ‘moms,’ especially black women, and how that’s such a beautiful, empowering thing. There’s a warmth to that word. It’s you As a child. Plus, there’s the haunting pressures of being a mother, especially for black women. Throughout history, they haven’t just been raising their own kids. They’ve been caring for other people’s kids as well.”
Throughout Earth Mama, Gia faces inflection points: whether to ask for a raise, whether to stay sober, whether to be court-appointed Speak in the support group, whether to give up the child. At one point, in front of her social worker and future adoptive mother, she completely backed off. No amount of close-ups or testimonials can put us in her shoes—any character’s—but that’s the point. We can only hold her hand from the other side of the screen. “It challenges the audience to go on this journey,” Leaf said. “Can you hold on?”