This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Speaking at the BFI London film festival, director and writer Savanah Leaf described how a conversation with a mother inspired her for the creation of Earth Mama. The mother had given away her child for adoption and she told Leaf that the aftereffects of the experience left her with a feeling of ‘humming'. A sense of loss and longing to be back with her child. The director took this on and, working closely with singer-songwriter Dominic Fike, collaborated on a soundtrack that immersed the emotions felt by the mother. Thus Earth Mama's central focus is on mother Gia (played by Tia Nomore), who at the beginning of the film is told that her children will continue to be in social care, despite her best intentions. Gia is expecting a third child, and the narrative follows her dilemma of whether to run the risk of losing another child to the care system or giving the child a better life through fostering. It's heartbreaking to watch, as Gia tos-and-fros between decisions, with little help from the outside world. Options are few and it feels as though she's stuck in a Catch-22.
The sense of loss isn't the only focus of the film. It also covers issues prevalent in the USA today, from gross inequality to drug addiction. From the foster care advisor to the social care officer, the blame is solely placed at her feet and this is where Earth Mama works best. It shows the viewer that these problems are a result of a system that has failed her. There is very little compassion from the people around her and though Gia attempts to improve her life, each avenue she turns down tunrs into another dead end. All she wants is a better life for her and her family but her life is devoid of colour, with Leaf painting a grey canvas of a life not fully lived; stuck in greys.
A little slow in its first half, the film blossoms in its second half as Gia is faced with the huge decision of whether to keep her child. The drama speeds up as her indecision causes friction with those around her, who often have their own vested interests rather than what's best for Gia. Tia Nomore brings a grounded sense of calm to her character, creating a genuine sense of empathy for a mother consistently let down by a system rigged against her.
An intelligent look at the many reasons young single mothers in the USA can struggle with the current social care and foster care system, Earth Mama creates the right balance between highlighting a serious issue and combining it with the emotional resonance needed for the audience to connect with its character. Although slow at times, the film sets its own pace, and proves affective and hard-hitting when it hits its stride. An incredible first feature film from director Savanah Leaf that's an assured, confident debut that wouldn't look out of place in the middle of a more distinguished director's career. It's exciting to see what Leaf will next create.
Earth Mama releases in UK cinemas on 8th December