Infertility and its spiraling marital repercussions are the central focus of Mother of George, a riveting new film written by Darci Picoult, and directed by Andrew Dosunmu.
The film begins in contemporary Brooklyn as Nigerian immigrant Adenike Balogun (beautifully played by Danai Gurira, who's also an award-winning playwright) celebrates a jubilant wedding to her hard-working new husband Ayodele Balogun (the excellent Isaach De Bankolé). In keeping with Yoruban tradition, the orishas are honored; fertility and abundance rites are featured in the sparkling festivities, such as the serving of banana to ensure sweetness; the presentation of succulent pineapple, favored by fecund mother figure Yemaya; and the spraying of dollar bills on the bride's head. Adenike learns from her mother-in-law Ma Ayo Balogun (Bukky Ajayi) that her first-born child will be named George, in honor of her dead father-in-law. Both Adenike and Ayodele receive tips from happy celebrants on how to start their married life together. Creating offspring is of the utmost importance to their newly-minted union.
Adenike and Ayodele love each other dearly. Although he runs a Nigerian restaurant with his brother Biyi (Anthony Okungbowa), Adenike brings her husband meals that she's prepared at home, so that he doesn't have to cook his own food to eat. Adenike, always gorgeously clothed in traditional dress, is a gifted seamstress, and willing to look for a job to earn her own money. But her proud husband prefers that she not work outside the home. Adenike often spends time with her less traditional friend Sade (Yaya Alafia), who happens to be secretly involved with Biyi.
After eighteen months, Adenike is unable to conceive. Eager to remedy this, she takes an unpleasant herbal elixir which yields no results. She sees a holy man for spiritual aid, but nothing changes. She tries to get Ayodele to go with her to a fertility clinic, so both can be checked out per western medicine; he refuses, preferring to stay the course with more traditional solutions. Adenike worries that Ayodele will take a second wife, as is often done in Nigerian culture when a first wife does not conceive. In one phone conversation with her own mother, Adenike wonders: why does everyone always assume it's the woman's fault? Adoption is seemingly out of the question.
What is especially poignant and moving in Mother of George is how Adenike's identity, as a woman and wife, is so completely tied to her ability to reproduce, even in the twenty-first century. This concept is reinforced by those closest to her, but especially by her mother-in-law Ma Ayo. Adenike risks being socially outcast if she cannot fix the couple's infertility, but her mother-in-law assures her that her son will always provide for Adenike, even if he must take a second wife in order to have children.
Ma Ayo continues to pressure her daughter-in-law to find a solution--eventually suggesting a shocking course of action. The series of events that unfolds is heartbreaking, especially so when Adenike's condition does change.
To yearn for fertility is mythological. A quick glance at a list of fertility deities worldwide reminds us that it is a timeless, universal quest. Indeed, some of the earliest goddesses on record are Mother or Great Goddesses, honored for their abilities to bring life to the earth. The general concept of fertility is linked to optimism for the future, a seeding of a better time to come, potential for new growth, a fresh beginning, birth, revivification. Mother of George depicts what happens in today's world when the pressure to prove one's fertility becomes fused with the ultimate sacrifice for love, when tradition clashes with modernity, and when secrets in families lead to surprising choices and devastating outcomes.
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