This independent debut feature from Chicago filmmaker Ruby L. Oliver is straight-up, sincere, and non-preachy enough to give inspirational films a good name. LOVE YOUR MAMA dramatizes how one iron-willed mother holds a crisis-wracked black urban family together during the worst of times.
The title character (Audrey Morgan) is named Lucia Brown but the credits bill her simply and archetypically as Mama. Even by ghetto standards the Browns have hard luck; husband/stepfather Sam (Earnest Rayford III) is an unemployable, self-pitying drunk who cheats openly and infects the deeply
religious Lucia with gonorrhea. Eldest son Wren (Andre Robinson), who works as a car thief, is shot and paralyzed by the police. Youngest boy Willie (Kearo Johnson) is a perpetual truant. Mama places all her hopes for their future in bright, pretty daughter Leola (Carol E. Hall). Then Leola is
suspended from high school just before graduation, unfairly charged with smoking marijuana, and becomes pregnant by a smooth-talking musician.
Leola nearly has an abortion but relents. Meanwhile, Mama tries to raise money by turning their apartment into a home day-care center for kids of the working parents in the building. This brings the wrath of hostile bureaucrats--alerted by the resentful Sam--who threaten to arrest Mama unless
she obtains an operator's license and brings her place up to strict commercial codes. For the first time in her life, Mama willfully breaks the law by continuing to baby-sit. With enough cash to secure a loan, Mama and Leola, now a mother herself, open a proper day-care center--and then another,
and another. Business prospers, and the family's darkest days are finally over.
There's a clear element of autobiography in LOVE YOUR MAMA. Writer/director/producer Ruby L. Oliver grew up in Chicago's south side in a situation similar to Leola's, and worked for years operating a chain of day-care centers--plus night shift at the Post Office--before retiring and entering
Columbia College at 46 to study Fine Arts. Reportedly, the impetus for LOVE YOUR MAMA came from a professor's statement that a middle-aged African-American woman without credits or connections could never break into Hollywood. After graduating, Oliver used roughly $1 million from investments and
the sale of her business to make the feature, shooting on location in Chicago with local talent.
LOVE YOUR MAMA, which had a scattershot theatrical release, is a respectable, even surprising effort whose virtues and flaws can compare with any release of 1993. Yes, the flaws are considerable. In its initial film festival release the drama was called LEOLA, perhaps reflecting the fact that
the daughter is far better defined than the crucial figure of Mama. One never learns Lucia's history; how such a sharp lady came to be married to a deadbeat like Sam, or what became of her first husband. Sam himself fades in and out of the story line without explanation, as does a nice-guy suitor
whom Leola may or may not have married by the end. The final stretch of narrative seems unnaturally rushed (changes in hairstyles signify that months are passing in a wink), and the fairy-tale finale is overemphatic due to Oliver's shrill song over the closing credits. On the other hand, Oliver
shows a solid filmmaking sense and draws terrific performances from her main actors, supporting performers, and even a lot of memorable extras. The players were recruited from the Chicago theater world, with Rayford (THE KILLING FLOOR) the only one with an appreciable film resume. Screen newcomer
Morgan is a dynamo, holding a turbulent household together through sheer force of will, and Hall is painfully believable as her faltering natural successor. Finally, Oliver's script has heart, humor, and the unshakable conviction of an author who has written what she knows. Its little episodes
consistently break stereotypes and overturn preconceptions. Mama's relationship with Sam is depicted in a way few mainstream moviemakers would dare: no matter how much he hurts or humiliates the family, Lucia won't throw the bum out, not because of weakness or trendy rationalizations of
co-dependence, but because she abides by a Christian ideal of pure, unconditional love. At the same time Mama isn't perfect. She's more or less written off all the males in family, and Wren's near-fatal shooting comes as a wake-up call to her to give Sam, Wren, and Willie the same constructive
nurturing she's reserved for Leola. And what was the last movie that delved into the details of the day-care industry and made it interesting?
This is terra incognita as far as Hollywood is concerned, and as with Matty Rich's bleak STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN (which, by contrast, dealt with the utter ruin of an inner-city black family) there's a semi-documentary sense of peering into the lives of a whole class of people who simply don't
exist in mainstream films. (Profanity, adult situations, substance abuse.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: This independent debut feature from Chicago filmmaker Ruby L. Oliver is straight-up, sincere, and non-preachy enough to give inspirational films a good name. LOVE YOUR MAMA dramatizes how one iron-willed mother holds a crisis-wracked black urban family tog… (more)