Bush Mama


Dir. Haile Gerima, 16mm B/W Sound 01:30:00

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BUSH MAMA, the impressive first feature and UCLA thesis project by director Haile Gerima, tells the story of the resistance, growth, and transformation of a struggling mother in Watts. Dorothy tries, despite the odds, to raise her daughter decently in an environment of harsh poverty. She becomes pregnant, the main in her life becomes incarcerated, and the Welfare Department insists that she have an abortion. After protecting her daughter from a rapist, Dorothy herself is jailed. Produced with active community involvement, the film takes a hard look at the strained relationship between African Americans and the LAPD.

Inspired after having seen a Black woman in Chicago evicted in winter, director Haile Gerima developed BUSH MAMA as his UCLA thesis film. Gerima blends narrative fiction, documentary, surrealism and political modernism in his unflinching story about a pregnant welfare recipient in Watts. Featuring the magnetic Barbara O. Jones as Dorothy, BUSH MAMA is an unrelenting and powerfully moving look at the realities of inner city poverty and systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans. The film explores the different forces that act on Dorothy in her daily dealings with the welfare office and social workers as she is subjected to the oppressive cacophony of state-sponsored terrorism against the poor. Motivated by the incarceration of her partner T.C. (Johnny Weathers) and the protection of her daughter and unborn child, Dorothy undergoes an ideological transformation from apathy and passivity to empowered action. Ultimately uplifting, the film chronicles Dorothy’s awakening political consciousness and her assumption of her own self-worth. With BUSH MAMA, Gerima presents an unflinching critique of the surveillance state and unchecked police power. The film opens with actual footage of the LAPD harassing Gerima and his crew during the shooting.

[Source: Scratching the Belly of the Beast Catalogue, 1994]
[Source: UCLA Film & Television Archive]