'Mother Of George' A Complicated Love Story

The struggle of infertility can bring tensions to any marriage. The new film, Mother of George, shines a light on how that experience affects a newlywed Nigerian couple living in New York. Host Michel Martin speaks with director Andrew Dosunmu and actress Danai Gurira about the film.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Switching gears now. Wanting a baby, getting pregnant, having a baby - on the surface, it may seem simple, but we now know that isn't always the case. Now a new film takes a fresh look at this challenge in an immigrant family. "Mother of George" follows a young Nigerian woman named Adenike. She's played by rising star Danai Gurira. Adenike is a devoted new wife, but when she doesn't get pregnant fast enough to suit her demanding mother-in-law, tensions arise.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOTHER OF GEORGE")

DANAI GURIRA: (As Adenike) Why are you letting her ruin our lives?

DE BANKOLE: (As Ayodele) I'm not letting her do anything. This is...

GURIRA: (As Adenike) You are.

DE BANKOLE: (As Ayodele) ...Our decision.

GURIRA: (As Adenike) You will not take another woman?

DE BANKOLE: (As Ayodele) I don't want another woman.

GURIRA: (As Adenike) Are you going to tell your mother that?

DE BANKOLE: (As Ayodele) Of course I will, if she asks me.

MARTIN: When Adenike realizes their problems conceiving may stem from her husband, she decides to take a traditional route, but one that's fraught with complications in the world she and her husband live in now. "Mother of George" has already won a lot of critical praise, including an award at the Sundance Festival, and also its rich, but nuanced look at a new immigrant story. And Danai Gurira and director Andrew Dosunmu join us now to talk more about the film. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.

GURIRA: Thank you.

ANDREW DOSUNMU: Thank you.

MARTIN: So, Andrew, let me start with you. Where did the story come from?

DOSUNMU: The genesis of the story really started with my writer Darci Picoult. She - basically, I was in South Africa directing this episodic television and my producer at the time gave it to me and I read it. And really liked something about it. And...

MARTIN: What did you really like about it?

DOSUNMU: For me, really, it's a love story. It really talks about at what lengths we go through things to give to people we care about. What's the price of love?

MARTIN: And, Danai, many people know you for your role on the "Walking Dead," but you also made a big impression in "The Visitor," which is also a movie that dealt with some of the challenges that immigrants face. What were you attracted to in this role?

GURIRA: Yeah, I mean, just mentioning "The Visitor," you know, I've been very fortunate to work with people like Tom McCarthy and Andrew Dosunmu and people who are telling that sort of new American story. You know, the immigrant and - on this soil, and how they're adapting, and how they're connecting to who they are and who this country is, and melding those two experiences. So I always find that really fascinating, and I'm always keen to tell the African female story. And it's a complex one, and it's one that comes from so many different angles. And so, to be asked to do it was really a no-brainer. It was such an interesting complex portrayal.

MARTIN: What stands out for you, Danai, in the story, because, honestly, the dilemma of - you know, you're married, you know, the family wants to see some grandkids - is a story that touches a lot of people and affects them in a lot of ways, but how they deal with it, how the dilemma they face and how to deal with it is something that is - you know, it's both universal but it's also specific. So, Danai, for you, what do you think was the part of it? Andrew said it was a love story. What - how do you see it?

GURIRA: I mean, it was a love story and I think that that was very rich to me. The beauty of it is, you know, people go, like, oh, there's a traditional component of it in terms of how she is functioning, but there's also a very self-determined component of it. And you see this woman, you know, she wants to make a family with this man who she loves, and she wants to be a mother. And that's something that several women want. And it's something that's an age-old desire, and something that you feel like you have - you should have access to. And so, the mother-in-law is bringing a whole other component of pressure, but the desire to be a mother and to have that experience, and something she - you know, you feel that you're born with the right to - is something that she's very keen to pursue. The thing I found very fascinating about Adenike is that, you know, you might question her choices, but she is a very determined chick.

MARTIN: Well, you know, I want to jump in, though, and ask - there's also - if there's the personal story, but there's kind of the backdrop against which all of this is taking place. And there is some social commentary in it. I think one of the reasons that I think people have been kind of bowled over by it is that it opens with an incredible Yoruba wedding. I mean, just the colors - you wish you were there. You wish you'd been invited. It's like, why wasn't I invited to this, because it's just so beautifully shot. It's so beautiful to see. But then there's the commentary of what is expected of people within these relationships. I just want to play a clip. This is right after the wedding. And some of the married men are giving advice to Ayodele, your husband. And here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOTHER OF GEORGE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: When you fool around...

DE BANKOLE: (As Ayodele) Me? No, not me.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: ...Pretend as nothing happened. (Foreign language spoken). When a good strays, it must always return home, because home is where your peace and happiness dwells.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: Always come home to sleep. Always come home to eat.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: And even if you have eaten, come home to eat again.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: We must provide our lady a good home. Eh? Eh?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Children, get busy.

MARTIN: Yeah, that's right. Get busy. So, Andrew...

DOSUNMU: Yes?

MARTIN: Talk about that, if you would.

DOSUNMU: This is something I witnessed in Brooklyn. I lived in Brooklyn for the last - I've lived in America for the last two decades, and this happens every weekend in most African communities. And I really wanted to depict that. I really wanted to really show that.

MARTIN: You mean the wedding or you mean...

DOSUNMU: The wedding.

MARTIN: ...A get-together where...

DOSUNMU: The wedding.

MARTIN: ...The generations get together.

DOSUNMU: The wedding itself.

MARTIN: Yeah.

DOSUNMU: Yeah, the wedding itself, and really depict that. And the get-together is really that advice that you get from your elders of what to do and what not to do, and how to keep a family, and what's expected of them - of what's expected of the husband, and the certain things that are not talked about, the certain things you have to keep to yourself. And just those advices that is given to you in that community.

GURIRA: No, I mean, the beauty of it - I know what you're talking about with the social commentary component. And I think the beauty of the story to me is that it does represent, you know, where you are coming from and what has your father's father's father done before you - or your mother's mother's mother. But what choices are you going to make in your particular life, in your specific circumstance?

MARTIN: Can I ask the dirty laundry question because, you know, you're depicting some things in the film that a lot of people are going to think, well that's just ridiculous. That's kind of backward. Sometimes, people feel, when they don't get a chance to tell stories that are rooted in their tradition, you might be the first film somebody has ever seen, right? And you think, oh wow, you know, does everybody have to be awesome and perfect and behave in a way that everybody thinks is honorable?

GURIRA: Well, that's boring. That's boring. That's not interesting story telling. The minute we do that, then we're depicting noble savages. You know, oh, the Africans are perfect, noble savages, which is what's been done enough, you know? So I want to see us make some mistakes and fall on our faces and still be people that you kind of root for. That's good storytelling to me.

MARTIN: Andrew, what do you think?

DOSUNMU: For one to think it's backwards, I think there's - there are advantages and there - traditions that are there for reasons and they've been existing for a long time. And they're rooted in that culture, and I think there's things we can take from it.

GURIRA: And it's character specific, too. I mean, it's not like Adenike had heard of this, you know, every day of her life. It was something that, you know, was brought to her attention when she was trying to figure out another way of dealing with it, and trying to work with her mother-in-law, and get her mother-in-law to get her son to do something. And, you know, it was a very character specific choice that her mother-in-law pulls out of the hat - out of the blue. But, you know, that Adenike's never heard of. And it is something that we see, the women sort out the situation, you know, in the best way they can. But it's - you know, it's not something that - I always am very wary about the idea that people then, you know, blanket that over every African's decision across the continent, you know.

MARTIN: But let me just say that these are folks who you think, OK, why don't they just go to a specialist?

GURIRA: You know what, those issues were addressed though.

MARTIN: I know.

DOSUNMU: And for me, I've also find it, as well, like, I mean, who's to say what is right or wrong, because, you know, it's like, do you go to a specialist and get something you don't know - and you don't even know the genetic problems and background of that? Or do you do something that you do know and is really going to look the same. So, really, which one is right? I know the choice I would take.

MARTIN: What is it? What would it be? Let's hear it.

GURIRA: Yeah, Andrew, what would you do?

MARTIN: Yeah, what would you do?

DOSUNMU: What she did, definitely. That's what I will do because I'm not going to do something, like I said, go to a specialist...

GURIRA: Well, you know, what about a sperm bank?

DOSUNMU: ...And get something I don't know. A sperm bank?

GURIRA: We could say...

DOSUNMU: ...We don't know what that is.

GURIRA: We could say, you know, I think from some traditional African perspectives, they'd be like, what the heck is a sperm bank? You're trying to tell me you're going to go up in some joint, where some folk's done what they've done in the jar, and you're just going to take that and leave? You know what I mean?

DOSUNMU: I don't...

GURIRA: Like, that's crazy to Africans.

DOSUNMU: I don't even know the genetic problems, I mean, more than anything else. You don't know the genetic story with that. I don't know...

GURIRA: So...

DOSUNMU: ...Maybe five years later, you realize that you've got this and that, and at least you know you can deal with this. You know what it's going to look like. You know what - the history of the family. And for me, that's the choice I will take.

MARTIN: OK, I do have a final - a final question, which is that so often we hear from actors and actresses of color, particularly, that their roles seem very limited in that they can't tell the stories that they want to tell. Do you feel we're, perhaps, at a new moment, where the ceiling is lifting and that you really can tell the stories in the - kind of the complexity that you would like to? The opportunities are there?

GURIRA: Listen, I started writing plays because of that issue, because I wanted to see stories told, and I wanted to see actresses and actors employed in ways that gave them a great workout. And I enjoy seeing that on the stage. I think the stage is a lot further along, but I think that TV and film are coming along. And I'm really excited to be, you know, working at this moment. I'm excited to, you know, meet filmmakers like Andrew and TV writers like the "Walking Dead" that do create characters that can - we can really play with as people of color. And I think it's just going to keep moving. I do want to keep - to participate in contributing to those stories being told as a writer as well. And that's what excites me, is that there's just more to do and there's more barriers to break down, but, you know, hey, you know, I never got into this to be, you know, fainthearted.

MARTIN: Danai Gurira is an actress and star of the new film, "Mother of George." Andrew Dosunmu is a filmmaker, photographer, and director of "Mother of George." It is in select theaters now. We hope you'll check your local listings. And they were both kind enough to join us in our bureau in New York. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

DOSUNMU: Thank you very much.

GURIRA: Thank you.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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