For director Savannah Leaf, the consistent symbolism interlaced into her feature film debut, “Earth Mama,” began with her thinking about “how Black women are kind of like the center of our universe and the power held within that.”
Leaf says that she was thinking “a lot about ancestry and the trauma that one can take on through their lineage." She leaned into the duality of showcasing the push and pull of trying to break way from generational wounds, while also recognizing the the beauty and power held in one's ancestral line.
“Earth Mama” envelops its viewers in this thought-provoking metaphorical through-line as it unravels the hardships encountered by its main protagonist—a young, single and expecting Black mother named Gia who is fighting to regain custody of her two children in foster care while also struggling with limited resources.
The Grammy-nominated director and former Olympic athlete says that a lot of the imagery in the film revolves around umbilical cords and the special connection between a mother and their child. She also incorporates the dense forests surrounding the film’s Northern California setting to further this idea of connection through underground roots.
“[I was] thinking about roots and trees and how the Bay Area is surrounded by trees that have been around for so many generations and hold so much weight,” she said. “They survive as groups, as a community, underneath the ground they actually communicate through their roots.
The A24 film is the extended follow-up to Leaf’s short documentary collaboration with actor Taylor Russell—best known for starring opposite Timothée Chalamet in “Bones and All.” Russell and Leaf’s short documentary, “The Heart Still Hums,” follows five mothers fighting for their children while also struggling with homelessness, drug addiction and familial neglect.
She says she chose to continue the story through a fictional narrative because she “didn’t want to intrude on anybody’s personal life,” especially while navigating the foster care system.
Interviews took place on Friday, June 23 2023.