The Naked Truth

Mothers stand united, exposing their souls on motherhood

It's safe to say that moms haven't had a fair shake in the movies, and you can't call in Mother Teresa to contradict me. The evidence is out there: Mommie Dearest, Throw Momma From the Train, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot, even Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. Even aside from whimsical exaggerations, ordinary motherhood often takes a back seat to extraordinary angles--the serious documentaries about threatened or impoverished mothers, or the sodden melodramas about stepmothers who turn out to be not so wicked. You couldn't build much of a film festival out of such material.

Diane Mullen of Minneapolis is out to change that. Now in production on a feature-length documentary called Naked Mothers, Mullen explains her goal as "to realize something I've been wanting to do ever since my son was born--over seven years ago--which is to have women talk about just what it means today to be a mother. This movie isn't about working mothers, and it isn't about the kids these mothers have. It's about motherhood itself."

The title implies that "Naked" mothers are subjects "who've agreed to bare themselves," Mullen explains. "We live in a society where motherhood is a really public, personal thing. Women with children feel they are always on view, and always being judged--if not by others, then by themselves, against some ideal standard. I have found twelve women, whom I think of as my peers, who'll share their experiences and ideas along a wide spectrum." As a personal example, noting the implied standards of "good" motherhood, Mullen recalls her breastfeeding days, when friends with babies the same age weren't having the same middle-of-the-night waking problems that she was. "They said to me, 'The reason this is happening is because you're stupid! You're still breastfeeding, and that's the cause of the problem.'"

The advice was well-intentioned, and those friends are still Mullen's friends, but the honesty involved in this exchange is at the heart of Naked Mothers. The film will be structured on the counterpoint between a group discussion among several women, and then short individual profiles and commentaries from each of those subjects. "Not all of them are working, and some of them are single," notes Mullen, "but all of them are willing to reveal their deep feelings. The film gives them a vehicle to explain themselves, and their concerns."

Asked the devil's-advocate question as to whether this could simply settle into a group complaint, Mullen confidently replies that "it's not male-bashing at all; these are women who like being mothers, and so it's more of a helpful ongoing therapy-type session. In the group discussions, one woman would throw out an idea, and the others would pounce on it, and say 'Yes! I've felt that, too! How did you deal with it?'" She adds that significant inspiration, of an indirect kind, came to her from Anne Lamott's book Operating Instructions, about the experience of being a newborn's mother. "Anne Lamott let me and every other woman reader know that you're not alone. That every other woman is going through these things, too."

Making Naked Mothers may be a labor of love--Mullen jokes about it being her second baby--but it's a natural outgrowth of her own professional experience. Since the mid-1980s she's been making ads, documentaries, and industrial films and videos both in Florida and the Twin Cities. Her clients and/or employers in past years have included Nike, Aveda, Dayton-Hudson, and Best Buy. Right now she's also in the middle of a six-year project to document the creation of the St. John's Bible, the completely hand-illuminated Bible being created by master calligrapher Donald Jackson.

Despite her broad professional experience, Mullen says, "I'm a mother first and a filmmaker second," and notes that her ideal "wrap" date for Naked Mothers would be on her son's birthday in June. Neatly mixing her idealism with her self-set task, her crew consists entirely of women, which she sees as an advantage for the intimate interview segments. There are hopes of supplementary activities or projects, such as a soundtrack or a book dealing with the kinds of stories her film will tell. But at its heart Naked Mothers is a message to the individual in every crowd: "We will be sharing some powerful, personal things. And so if one woman can watch it and say, 'Great! I'm not in this by myself. I'm a naked mother, too!'" then we've done our job."

 

Phil Anderson has been a long-time reviewer of movies, software, and technology for Minnesota Parent. He has informed us, sadly, that this is his last regular review, although his work will still appear on special assignment.

 
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