Danai Gurira of Mother of George: Telling the Stories of Africans in Brooklyn

Just when it seems like media are saturated with clichéd stories of newly married couples in Brooklyn and their journeys toward parenthood, here comes Andrew Dosumnu’s film Mother of George (opening September 13), which not only upends the typical media portrayal of a married Brooklyn couple but is also a sumptuously beautiful and provocative look at the experience of Nigerian immigrants in Crown Heights. At its center is actress Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead, Treme) as Yoruban immigrant Adenike who has come to Brooklyn to wed Ayodele Balogun (Isaach de Bankolé), also an immigrant, who has made his home in Brooklyn. At the wedding, Adenike is given the name “Mother of George” by her mother-in-law in honor of her not- yet-conceived child. And so, like so many films about marriage, this one also has a meddling in-law. But that’s where conventional storytelling ends, and a not-usually-seen onscreen perspective unfolds.

As Adenike, Gurira gives a beautifully nuanced performance, and when we speak with her about what drew her to the film, she tells us, “I thought it was really exciting to be able to tell the story of African immigrants on the ground, and I think there’s a dearth of immigrant stories. I don’t understand why, because they’re a clear part of America, but we tend to avoid those stories.” It’s the second film that she has worked on with Dosumnu (the first being Restless City) and Gurira says about both the director and the film, “We worked very well together, so it absolutely made sense. I knew it would be a gorgeous piece of art, and so that was very appealing… I’m Zimbabwean-American, so the idea of telling a different story on American soil, of an African woman and her perspective was very important to me. It was about piecing together a life. ” In order to get a better understanding of the Yoruban community in which the film takes place, Gurira connected with many Nigerian immigrants and immersed herself in the Brooklyn community that serves as Mother of George’s setting. Gurira tells us, of filming in Crown Heights, “It was amazing. During the wedding scene all these actual Nigerians came and just functioned like they were at an actual wedding; dressed like they would dress, acted like they would act, blessed us like they would bless us. It didn’t even feel like a film, it felt like this was really happening. It was really great to be in the actual arena of the people in that community and it added that extra texture. And so we got to really celebrate that part of Brooklyn that we never really see—the world of the African in New York.”

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Photo courtesy Oscilloscope