Ryanaustin Dennis is cocurator of BAMPFA's Black Life series.
Barbara Jones, Johnny Weathers, Susan Williams, Cora Lee Day,
Bush Mama focuses on Dorothy, the title character, a Black woman living on welfare in Watts, trying to raise her daughter while her man is in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Through Dorothy’s eyes, we experience the turmoil of life in the neighborhood—a world of police violence, welfare offices, unemployment lines, decaying tenements, and social workers, where, as Thom Andersen noted, residents are “made to feel they are living in occupied territory.” Responses to this oppressive reality range from escapist fantasies to a growing political awareness. Though scripted and professionally acted, Bush Mama has all the immediacy and urgency of a documentary, capturing the rich, distinctive local patois, its despair as well as its humor. This was the first feature by the talented Ethiopian-born Gerima, a contemporary of Billy Woodberry and Charles Burnett at UCLA’s film school. After graduation, he returned to Ethiopia to make the acclaimed Harvest: 3000 Years and has since made many films on African American life.
Black Life Film Program Sponsor: Julie Simpson