In the meditative documentary “In Our Mothers’ Gardens” (streaming on Netflix), the stories could warm a room in any season. Opening with a quote from Alice Walker, whose book “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” inspired the film’s title, the documentary sets out to show how Black maternal lineages have shaped the idea of Black womanhood.
The director Shantrelle P. Lewis, who also appears in the film as a subject, weaves together interviews with Black women from a variety of backgrounds, including the activist Tarana Burke, the entrepreneur Latham Thomas and Professor Brittney Cooper, the author of “Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower.” The interviewees offer anecdotes about their mothers and grandmothers, and reflect on how the relationships nourished them. In one scene, Burke recalls a childhood experience of being slapped by a stranger for playing in the supermarket. When Burke’s grandmother heard what happened, she smashed the store’s window with a pipe.
Lewis pairs the stories with a lovely collage aesthetic, layering the interviews with home videos, photographs and music. Sometimes, she even frames her subjects within collages of flowers, antique curios and archival images.
As a director, Lewis is admirably present. She seems to have gained the trust of her interview subjects, and has taken care to create a space for openness. But as the women explore spirituality, trauma and resilience, an echo effect emerges. Sometimes that echo can sound like repetition. The film’s division into rough thematic chapters reinforces redundancies; some ideas within the “healing” segment could have fit within “radical self-care,” and vice versa. Yet such hiccups ultimately do not detract from the movie’s grace — nor from its showcase of Lewis’s natural gifts as a communicator and as an artist.
In Our Mothers’ Gardens
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes. Watch on Netflix.