Birthright: Mothering Across Difference, a film by Celine Parreñas Shimizu, associate professor of Asian American studies at UCSB, will have its first public screening at 6 p.m. May 27 in UCSB’s MultiCultural Center Theater.
The film features interviews with 50 women from diverse backgrounds, all of whom live in the Santa Barbara area and are raising children from newborn to age 4. Whittled down from more than 42 hours of footage, the film intersperses individual interviews with those of small and large groups of women who share the highlights and challenges of mothering. It explores how the act of mothering transforms womanhood, friendship, family and home.
“When I had my first child, I faced some unexpected challenges to my personal and professional identity,” Shimizu, who is also an affiliated faculty member in the Departments of Film and Media Studies and Feminist Studies, said of new motherhood. “It changes your perspective on time, space, intimate relationships, even places.
“As we live in the moment where mothering is celebrated and idealized in popular culture, my film intervenes with a more complete story of the joy and pain of becoming a mother. Ultimately, I interrogate how mothering brings women together, as well as challenging existing institutions of family, marriage, work and friendship.”
Women have traditionally been the primary caregivers for young children in the United States, but their needs often go unspoken in our society, she said. “Women often have to go back to work after only three months or so, and it can be devastating for some of them. For working women who endure the challenge of work and parenting, sometimes the two don’t mix. The film opens up the need for society to develop a sustained vision for women and their children in ways that support their needs.”
The film juxtaposes women from varying socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and focuses on their similarities while acknowledging their differences.
“We see a wealthy woman speak immediately after a poor woman, and we hear various women’s racial and ethnic experience,” Shimizu said. “And in opening their lives to each other and to us, connections are made. The film shows how mothers live in difference and mother differently while also sharing certain commitments. They don’t belittle each other’s worries and concerns.”
In the month since it was completed, Birthright has been screened in preview version at Ohio Wesleyan University. It will have its world premiere in the Reelheart Film Festival in Toronto on June 24.
It is Shimizu’s fifth film. In 2002, she wrote, directed, edited, and co-produced the experimental documentary The Fact of Asian Women, in which contemporary Asian American female actors re-enact scenes from popular Hollywood films.