WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Even though I have seen many African diaspora films, I did not have a specific film vocabulary for Nigerian films because I haven’t been exposed to that cinema. I am very pleased that my initiation into that world comes via Andrew Dosunmu.
Andrew Dosunmu is a Nigerian photographer and filmmaker who came to prominence in the United States after directing music videos for various acclaimed artists. His debut feature, Restless City (ttff/12), premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Mother of George (2013), his most recent film, also premiered at Sundance.
The story unfolds around the wedding of Ayodele, the owner of a Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn, and his fiancée, Adenike. Their traditional Yoruba wedding culminates in a ceremony where Adenike is named for her yet-to-be-conceived son, George. As someone who has enjoyed freedom over my own body and a choice as to how and when I will have children, I immediately felt oppressed and trapped by this traditional ceremony. I was left wondering, is the sole function of these traditional marriages to reproduce?
As the months pass without pregnancy, the audience can actually feel the mounting pressure from her mother-in-law and Adenike’s inclination to leave off with her Yoruba culture and immerse herself more in her new American life, encouraged by her friend Sade. Unfortunately her attempts to earn money for herself or try American fashion are shut down by Ayodele and Adenike is left to cling to her traditional way of life to please her community. I think that Dosunmu does an amazing job of intertwining the feel of American films and their synonymous promise of dreams and freedom with that of the feel and grain of culture in African films.
After Adenike makes every effort to address the fertility issues in her marriage, she buckles under the massive pressure of a childless 18 months of marriage, Eventually, by the encouragement of her mother-in-law, she decides to sleep with her husband’s brother to try to get pregnant. Her mother-in-law insists, “It is the same blood.”
To me, this is a rather extreme measure. However, even with this thinking, Dosomnu shows the differences between Nigerian traditional culture and more modern Westernised cultural standards. This role of the mother-in-law represents a very interesting theme of tradition and family and how close-knit an immigrant family can be when trying to maintain their sense of home and community. It also poses questions of assimilation and speaks to the realities of problem-solving as an individual versus as a community in a traditional space, especially when modern methods are available and not as oppressive.
Mother of George is such a multifaceted film, shot with both physical and metaphorical textures and layers. The director’s background as a fashion photographer (not to mention Bradford Young’s stunning cinematography) lend colour and artistic flair to this portrait of Nigerian immigrant family life.
These themes of family life, tradition, fertility, a woman’s role, immigrant life, assimilation, sexuality and marriage are all universal themes that define our humanity and anyone who watches this film will be able to connect with and appreciate this window into another culture.