Motherhood is a complicated subject to cover within the short period of a film. The nuances of single motherhood are an even more complex subject to cover in that time. In her debut film, Savannah Leaf showcased this journey and the emotional path of single motherhood. Earth Mama, released on July 7, 2023, tells the story of Gia (played by Tia Nomore), a single mother grappling with her ongoing pregnancy and custody battle with the state and her children. Through Gia’s journey, the movie shows single motherhood through those who have to bring these children into the world. The movie guides us through where Gia is, trying to prove herself against the foster care system as a great parent to her two kids and welcoming another child with grace and stillness. I’d like to describe the movie as a beautiful vignette of the mundane. I’d assume most people don’t take too much interest in single motherhood and the systems that keep single mothers from being able to support and adequately care for their children. Additionally, with movies such as The Florida Project, Miss Juneteenth, and Room, the showing of single motherhood is a story that has been done repeatedly. Earth Mama adds to these films but also adds beautiful cinematography, great direction, and a moving story that speaks far beyond the film itself.
Tia Nomore’s portrayal of Gia was very emotional, keeping me in the movie throughout. It was heavy to see her battle with keeping her child or giving it up for adoption and the mixed emotions she already feels towards her motherhood journey. The acting from the cast as a whole added to a great watch as they helped provide a grounded feeling to the movie. In a way, it felt like watching people that you’ve seen in your life at some point or another. Trina (played by Doechii) felt like the homegirl you knew from within your neighborhood. Miss Carmen (played by Erika Alexander) feels like the neighbor who wants the best for everyone around her. Outside of the acting, the choice of having these separate monologues from women within the government-required classes to even the guys from Gia’s neighborhood discussing their moms and their relationship with motherhood was a nice touch to help guide the story itself along. Seeing Gia’s life essentially fold in on itself with the weight of both of these events was something I could only imagine mothers, or single mothers, understanding the total amount of what it truly feels like.
The movie’s cinematography, done by Jody Lee Lips, helps perfectly capture the film’s intimacy and subject matter. From tranquil shots of Gia just interacting with her kids to the liveliness of the car meet that Gia and Mel (played by Keta Price) go to later in the film. The shots Jody chooses to do throughout the movie are something I have to add to the movie’s credit. One scene in particular got me emotional, as Gia, at her job, was helping a couple take their maternity pictures. The shot has the pregnant wife and her husband taking their picture in joy while Gia sits on the side, fully pregnant, looking at this photoshoot taking place. It paints this picture of her looking at what could be while she exists in what is. While the movie is slow at times, it emphasizes the quietness within Gia’s journey in single motherhood.
The system that Gia fights against throughout the movie is the foster care system. This system, at large, has statistically had more black kids be thrown into the system, as one in three children in the system in the United States are young children of color. Even with Miss Carmen’s help, Gia sought to fight against the system and keep her kids with her. Seeing her try her best to work with the foster care services to show that she is a fit mother for her kids is something that I wish could be expounded more throughout other films about single motherhood. Gia’s dilemma to put her baby up for adoption while seeing her children deal with the system is an interesting dichotomy to watch play out. I found it insightful and also aching to watch someone go through.
The movie is a triumph for Savanah Leaf’s debut and for all those involved. If anyone wants an indie film that pulls at your heartstrings, highlights black motherhood, and shows the struggle beautifully, this movie is a must-watch.