Earth Mama (2023)

Earth Mama (2023)

A searingly emotional blend of social and magical realism from a one-to-watch director



United Kingdom, United States of America
English, Spanish
Bokeem Woodbine, Dominic Fike, Erika Alexander
97 min


A breakout for everyone involved, especially first-time feature director Savanah Leaf and acting newcomer Tia Nomore.

What it's about

A pregnant single mother navigates a dehumanizing bureaucratic system as she fights for custody of her two children.

The take

Based on the documentary short she helmed with actor Taylor Russell, Savannah Leaf’s Earth Mama is an intimate, unabashedly political, and decisively non-judgmental look at one mother’s determined attempts to regain custody of her two children. Gia (Tia Nomore) is struggling to work enough hours at her part-time photo studio job to pay for the home she needs before she can be reunited with her kids — struggling because the state also requires her to attend classes on topics like addiction recovery, which are eating into her time. What’s more, Gia is also heavily pregnant, and her looming due date sets a clock ticking on her efforts to satisfy her caseworker and decide what’s best for her new baby. 

There’s a depressingly cyclical nature to all this heartbreak, as testified to by the real people who sometimes pierce the drama to share their own experiences of the system Gia is navigating. Their contributions — along with Nomore’s lived-in performance and Leaf’s assured touch — deepen the urgency and emotion of the movie, which is as much a commentary on the dehumanizing bureaucracy of the social care system as it is Gia’s own particular story.

What stands out

Earth Mama’s subject matter and storytelling steer it into the realm of social realism, but that genre rarely looks like it does here. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes shoots all this raw emotion on gorgeous, grainy 16mm, but the film sometimes drifts into outright dreamlike interludes inspired by the natural environment of its Bay Area setting: redwood forests and lapping ocean waves. For Gia, the magical realist excursions she embarks on are a balm to all the hardship she experiences — they’re an escape. What’s more, these scenes of her communing with nature also affirm the near-sacredness of the role she's fighting so hard to protect: that of a mother.


Add a comment

What did you think? Who should watch it?




Fruitvale Station (2013)

Compassionate filmmaking reconstructing a 24-hour police brutality story – with a stunning lead by Michael B. Jordan


The Beasts (2022)

A slow-burn Spanish thriller crackling with menacing energy and brilliant performances


The Kings of the World (2022)

A knife-sharp account of five kids' journey to land restitution and self-determination


Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Director Abel Ferrara provocatively mixes the profane and the blessed to transcendent effect in this gritty interrogation of redemption


Parallel Mothers (2021)

Vibrant, dramatic, and relevant, Parallel Mothers is a memorable entry into director Pedro Almodóvar’s prolific body of work


Strawberry and Chocolate (1994)

Exploring art, literature, and love in the vibrant streets of Havana


Hustle (2022)

A winning drama about what it takes to succeed in basketball and in life


An Angel At My Table (1990)

A profoundly moving and compassionate biopic that does its incredible subject justice


Love Is in the Air (2023)

It’s even more cliched and implausible than most standard-issue romantic comedies, but this Aussie film is not without its charms


Lingui: The Sacred Bonds (2021)

Solidarity is salvation in this moving portrait of female resilience


Curated by humans, not algorithms.

agmtw logo

© 2023 agoodmovietowatch, all rights reserved.