The well-crafted drama Mother of George takes place in one of those small communities from overseas transplanted into urban American society, in this case a vibrant group of Nigerians living in Brooklyn. The lengthy and carefully observed opening sequence is of a traditional Nigerian wedding, with its lovely music and shimmering colors. The bride, Adenike, played by Danai Gurira, is glowing with joy and excitement, clearly in love with her groom Ayodele, played by the marvelous actor Isaach de Bankole. The groom’s mother wishes the bride joy and fertility, and predicts that she will first have a son. Later she asks her privately that the son be named George, after her deceased husband, Ayo’s father.
When the bliss of the wedding is over, the couple gradually passes into the happy routine of domesticity. Ayo manages an African restaurant with the help of his brother Biyi, who is secretly dating Adenike’s beautiful friend Sade. A portent of Adenike’s uncertainty in her role is when Sade helps her pick out a blouse that she thinks her husband will like, but it’s too sheer, and the more conservative Ayo doesn’t like it. The issue, the trouble that arises, is far greater than this trivial event. No matter how they try, the couple can’t get pregnant. And although Ayo, with a sort of passive live-and-let-live manner, doesn’t seem to care, his mother does, and she becomes more and more insistent that Adenike have a baby.
The story is by Darci Picoult, and the film is directed by Andrew Dosunmu. The dilemma of being expected to have children, and being ashamed if you can’t, has the specific flavor of this African subculture, but the implications are not confined by culture. With the exception of the mother-in-law, whose controlling strategies cause needless suffering, everyone in the film has good reasons and good intentions. Expectations about what a marriage should be, or a man or woman’s role, envelop the characters like an invisible blanket. Gurira, who has the central role here, has become well-known for her part in the hit TV series The Walking Dead. Here she powerfully evokes the tenderness, low self-esteem, and confusion of a woman desperate to please the world by having a child, and also the anger of being put in such an unfair position. It’s significant that she doesn’t consider the possibility, at least at first, that her husband might be the one with the problem. The picture takes us on her journey, in a style both patient and alert, until we must ask how far she will go to get pregnant, and whether or not that might be too far.
The name of the film, Mother of George, is of course ironic, defining a woman only by the child she hopes she will have. It’s a graceful, sensitive, and accomplished film that honors its characters and their mistakes.