I was always known as an athlete. That’s what I was and that’s how people thought of me. As a kid, I was tall and lanky and could jump out of the gym. Sports, whether I liked it or not, became a natural identity for me.
Being a good athlete created opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. As a sophomore in high school, I verbally committed to university, and received a full athletic scholarship. By the age of 18, I was competing in the London 2012 Olympics. When I graduated, it made sense to continue playing professionally, as I got a salary straight out of college.
A year in, I suffered a career-ending injury. The doctor told me I needed to stop moving and take as much pressure off of my legs as possible. All of a sudden, I had no trajectory. Where I once had a daily schedule with sprint training, weightlifting, two three-hour practices, and physiotherapy, I now spent my time couch-ridden filling out job applications. I had crippling self-doubt, wondering if I was smart enough to make a career off the court.
When I was young I had creative inclinations, but being an artist felt unattainable. I often felt like too much of a ‘jock’ to articulate my feelings and be taken seriously. I was scared of what people might think of my ideas and vocabulary, so I often avoided speaking altogether. Now, I’m a few days away from our release, and I’m still trying to fully grasp how I got here.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how Earth Mama began. In the beginning, I wondered if an audience could ever empathize with a mother who makes a critical mistake with her pregnancy. People are so quick to pull out their moral compass when it comes to motherhood. And even more so when it comes to judging Black mothers.
Earth Mama’s first draft was born from my memories. I found inspiration in the community of women that raised me and impacted my upbringing: my mother, my sister’s birth mother, my friends' mothers, my coaches, my teachers, my older teammates on my AAU basketball and club volleyball teams, and my closest friends. These people were embedded within the fabric and nostalgia of the mid-2000’s Bay Area that filled my teenage years: pastel colored shirts, Girbaud jeans, redwood walks, fast food parking lots, local rappers on burned CDs, bus rides over bridges, boys huddled and hollering at functions, the glimpse of hope that the Warriors gave us, and the little, crowded rental I came home to every night.
Before my sister was born I had always wanted to go to Hilltop Mall and take photos at the portrait studio with a large family. I wanted to wrap my arms around 10 family members, wearing matching tees and Baby Phat jeans cuffed with rubber bands, all of us smiling into the camera in front of a backdrop of a vacation. I often dreamt of having these photos so I could set them on my Myspace page, hand them out to friends so they could stick them in their wallets, or magnetize them to my fridge. I wanted to pretend, like everyone else, that my family was unbreakable. Me amongst my make-believe siblings and unified parents. I didn’t take those photographs. It was just me and my mom, and I didn’t feel like we had a big enough family for a Mall portrait.
I never knew my father growing up. Like many children, I used to make up stories about why he seemed to have abandoned me. I wanted to make sense of why he wasn’t around. I often dreamt that my father was Bob Marley, with too many children to take care of me. At other times, I would imagine him to be some evil, manipulative person who never thought twice about his children. As I grow older, I think about, ‘What if the answer is neither? What if that parent is just a person, who is fighting to be the best version of themselves, and made a mistake?’ Maybe they made a mistake that seems unforgivable.
Earth Mama is about building compassion for people when it seems impossible. It is made to try to chip away at an unfair first-glance judgment. It is also made for people to see themselves, and their community, in these characters. It is created with a team of unique and generous storytellers, pouring their own life experiences into every moment on screen. It is a movie made to be viewed alongside an audience, asking yourselves the same questions I grappled with when writing this script, ‘Is it possible to empathize with Gia?’
As this film comes out, my hope is that you are able to find a theater and experience this story with us, giving yourself permission to walk beside a valiant Gia, and the community alongside her.
Thank you, Savanah