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IndieWire: The 40 Best Movies of 2023 (So Far)

2023 September 25

Learn the names Savanah Leaf, first-time feature filmmaker, and Tia Nomore, first-time feature actress, right now, because their debut film “Earth Mama” is a shimmering stunner. A former Olympic volleyball athlete, Leaf has a canny eye for locating the subversion and beauty within a welfare-system drama about a single mother fighting for her life and children. What sounds, on paper, like a challenging sit is actually a wondrous 97-minute feature, whose director and star are obviously poised for greatness.

Any film tackling the petty and punishing bureaucracies of the foster care system risks wading into melodrama or cliche, but “Earth Mama” largely avoids those rookie traps, and with an unpredictable and fiercely focused actress at its roots. Leaf searched far and wide for a Bay Area non-actor to embody Gia, a young Black mother whose son and daughter from an all-but-nonexistent father are in foster-care limbo while she recovers from drug addiction and has barely a dollar to her prepaid cell phone credits. Tia Nomore, frequently seen on the Bay Area freestyle battle-rap circuit, had been training to become a doula for Black families when she was cast, and her personal connection runs through the material.

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