Dear Mama

A response to the short film directed by Winter Dunn

BY Fernanda Herrera

“All my grief says the same thing–this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. And the world laughs, holds my hope by the throat, says, but this is how it is.”- Fortessa Latifi

The fragility of storytelling, especially through film, is that perspective is rarely ever singular. As this story follows Tanisha, a teenage girl who has just lost her mother, it primarily brings up her father Nate’s grief as an external force being applied on her own grief. His desire to bury his grief in his work does not allow Tanisha to feel her own sadness. And yet, is it not true that she is an external factor acting upon her father? Tanisha’s own sentiments are at odds with her father’s, and it can be argued that she, too, does not allow Nate to process grief in his own way.

As the two seek to reconcile their different perspectives, the film explores grief as a verb and a noun–separate from both the person feeling it and their relationship to the origin of their grief. Now that Tanisha’s mother is dead, Tanisha’s grief becomes completely abstract, tied down by no physical entity. Grief exists only in the metaphysical space. Nate’s grief exists in a similar form; it is no longer bound to his wife but rather his memory of her. It seems as though this film, purposefully or not, brings up the question: once grief is entirely independent–that is, not attached to an existing object or person from which it originated (Tanisha’s mom), and affects a person (Tanisha) but cannot be called his or hers (a new question arises with this statement: is it Tanisha’s grief, or the grief which affects Tanisha?)–, who’s job is it to control that grief? Is it truly Tanisha’s right to tell her father how to cope with grief? Is it his right to do the same to her? As demonstrated, a complex web of questions and–by nature–assumptions begins to form in the mind of the viewer as the movie continues.

Perhaps unfortunately, as humans we tend to want to look at situations in a vacuum. We want to believe that we can quantify and acknowledge all variables, and if not, we turn to looking at things solely as one dimensional ideas. Why we turn to single dimensional analysis is unclear as of yet–and perhaps not fundamental to the purpose of this film– but we must at least recognize that this happens. Dear Mama does an astonishing job of remaining mindful of the different perspectives and using them to contrast each other to better explain the situation presented. One scene that stuck out was during Nate and Tanisha’s argument, when Nate screams at Tanisha that “she’s not here, is she.” It appears that the tone of finality in his voice surprises him more than it does Tanisha. In having this conversation where the two griefs collide, Nate is able to come to terms with the passing of his wife. It is from this scene onward that Nate begins to understand his daughter’s point of view. Allowing Nate this opportunity to grow not only–obviously–allows the film to proceed to the finale, it also allows the film to explore the different stages of grief at the same time. Again, the importance of multiple perspectives and the question of grief’s effect on the receiver arises. Tanisha seems more affected by the flippant indifference in her father’s voice, whereas Nate is more affected by the implications of his words.

The film culminates in a quiet vigil in the family’s backyard. What feels most impactful about the scene is not necessarily the vigil itself, but the implications of it. This final scene heavily contrasts the opening scene, where only Tanisha is pictured. That both Nate and Tanisha are in the closing image demonstrates a convergence of ideals as well as newfound mutual understanding. Although some questions are still left unanswered, the film’s finale indicates a more kind relationship moving forward. This is the importance of comparing perspectives–it is only when two people differ that they are able to find common ground.

Cassady López

Cassady López is a poet, writer, film enthusiast, sister and friend. She has performed and competed from the final stage at the Los Angels Get Lit Classic Slam to the Brave New Voices Slam stages. She writes and highlights subjects such as family, latinidad, homelessness and disability. She was born and raised in the desert and hopes to continue writing and creating with in her community


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