Mother of George, the Sundance hit and second feature film by fashion photographer turned director Andrew Dosunmu, was released to critical acclaim in 2013. Written by Darci Picoult, the film centers on a New York-based Nigerian couple. Eighteen months after their marriage, Adenike, played by Danai Gurira, has yet to get pregnant. Desperate for a child and facing pressure from cultural norms and an intrusive mother-in-law, Adenike is determined to bear a child and keep her husband Ayodele, played by Isaach de Bankolé, from straying. Visually striking and beautifully acted, Mother of George is an intimate portrayal of an intimate story. Read on for secrets behind the making of Mother of George.
How It All Began
While attending a conference at the International Association of Women Justices, Darci Picoult heard a woman from Zimbabwe tell a story that she referred to as Mother George. While hearing the woman’s story, Picoult felt an instant connection. She would eventually reach out to that woman who planted the initial story seed, and interview African couples living in Brooklyn. The research helped Picoult create her own family on the page.
Darci Picoult’s script made its way to director Andrew Dosunmu. They exchanged emails for several months while Dosunmu was working on a TV show in South Africa, and then London. When he made his way to New York, where Picoult is based, Dosunmu asked to meet. That’s when they discovered that their children attended the same school. Picoult figured their working relationship was kismet.
Universal Human Experience
Picoult has no immediate or obvious connection to Nigeria or Nigerian Americans, but she dealt with infertility issues in her own life. This is part of the reason she connected so much with the initial Mother of George story and her protagonist, Adenike, who is willing to do whatever it takes to have a child.
Mother of George was workshopped by Picoult and Dosunmu at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Directors Lab back in 2005. When the film was finally shot and edited, it premiered at Sundance in 2013.
Mother of George does not have a great deal of dialogue. This is because Dosunmu encouraged Picoult to write in images before she wrote with words. Picoult was very open to the process.
Preparation For the Role
In preparing to play Adenike, Danai Gurira spent a lot of time with a Nigerian woman whose real name just so happened to be Adenike. She was Dosunmu’s friend’s mother-in-law (try saying that three times fast), and had recently moved to Brooklyn, living with her son and his family.
Bradford Young was the cinematographer for Mother of George. Along with Dosunmu, Young was going for a bit of a sci-fi feel in order to depict Adenike’s sense of isolation and displacement. That’s why the film was shot with a shallow depth of field, so that the audience is forced to connect that much more with Adenike and her story, but the feeling of being severely out of place.
Food provided for the cast and crew was prepared by none other than Adenike, the Nigerian woman that Gurira spent time observing while preparing for her role.
Blue figures prominently appear in Mother of George. The color is associated with Yemaya, the goddess of fertility.
The Influence of Paintings
Early on in the film, there’s a scene in which Adenike is given a piece of jewelry to wear that helps with fertility. Darkly lit with hints of blue and silver, the look of the scene was inspired by a Byzantine-era painting of an African ceremony. Dosunmu had seen the painting in a Houston museum and wanted to project that canvas onto the screen. He was also heavily influenced by contemporary painters Chris Ofili and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
Dosunmu says Mother of George would have never happened without the Sundance Film Festival. The script was workshopped there, and Dosunmu also did a Directors Lab with the script at Sundance. That’s why when the film finally premiered at the prestigious festival, it was almost like a homecoming.
On the Set
Mother of George was shot in 22 days in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn using a Red Epic camera.
Ready For My Close-Up
Cinematographer Bradford Young discussed the importance of marginalization and how it played a role in the overall look of the film. “The idea of marginalization is very important to our story,” said Young in an April 2013 interview with American Cinematographer. “Andrew always talks about how New York is a place of great diversity, but we’re not in communication with each other. We filled the frame up with faces that New Yorkers see every day, but don’t really see, even though they might live next door.”
The beautiful prints and fabrics seen in Mother of George were sourced by costume designer Eniola Dawodu.