GRANDMA’S ROSES is a raw, intimate documentary exploring the labor & love women invest in their families and communities. As the director processes the life of his own grandmother, he travels across the country to hear the stories of dynamic, wise, and courageous women who've lived boldly in the face of sexism and racism. He expands upon the familiar notions of grandmothers as centerpieces of family life by also showcasing their contributions outside of the home as workers and community members, and reflects on the expectations set for them by society.
My grandmother recently passed on to that big jazz fest in the sky. In the words of poet Louise Gluck, she had survived her life. How this Black woman without a high school education, from the Englewood section of Chicago, raised by a single mother and a loving village of elders, accomplished what she did is astonishing. You had to have known her to fully understand. This was a woman who, through her wit and charm, convinced a white banker to give his first home loan to a black family when all the other banks in town wouldn’t. She protested and marched for civil rights in a town that was so small such acts put one’s livelihood at risk. She had an open house, with dozens of children and relatives seeking refuge in her home for months, at one time or another over the years. Hiding from police? Come on in. House burned down? Come on in. Wife kicked you out? Come on in.
This lasted up until the year before she passed, having taken in her sister and sister in law – both suffering from dementia, caring for them, cooking, cleaning, serving their meds, sifting through their mail, making sure their bills were still getting paid. Her work in childrearing and marriage were just as significant, but not without its errors and flaws. After all, she became a mother at the age of 14, and was fiercely independent by her own means at that age as well. But it’s evident she did her best and an amazing job given the circumstances. Part of me believes it was the constant caring of others, instead of caring for herself that led to her untimely death... As special as my grandmother is to me, I know her story is not unique. Her life is analogous to the lives of millions of women across the continent that we call our mothers, aunties, grandmothers, wives, partners and more. But did my grandmother, and the women like her, make such sacrifices out of choice, or lack thereof? To meet the expectations set for them by society, to be a strong, eat-last-type-of matriarch? Were they the result of wonderful character traits, or the oppressive demands of a patriarchal white supremacist society, or both?
As a grandson, I am giving tribute to my grandmother through this film, GRANDMA’S ROSES, uplifting the experiences and wisdom of women elders. I hope this film will spark conversations with audiences that deepen appreciation for the leadership of women and challenge the root expectations we have for the women in our lives. As a filmmaker with an educational background in journalism, my process starts with community-based research – paying attention to the issues people and families are facing, and situating those stories in larger social, geographical, and political frameworks.
I choose to work closely with in-home interviews as my primary assets in order to establish an intimate and informal relationship with the audience, and I utilize original music to add a simple yet unique feel to my films. My deep experience as a social justice organizer allows me to identify social and political issues that foster the problems people I feature in my films are experiencing on a personal level. This, I believe is critical in producing films that advance the cause of social justice because it encourages audiences to focus on systemic barriers rather than the individual traits of the interviewees. Furthermore, as a Black filmmaker in a predominantly White field, I see it as a responsibility as well as a passion to focus on stories within communities of color in order to expand the narratives of our lives and histories.