Mother and Child is a multi-protagonist feature in which race and culture are represented without so much as a whiff of explanation. African American, Hispanic and white characters, representing all levels of social and professional strata, make up the interwoven Altman-esque narrative. Which leaves me to think, is Rodrigo García's latest film a post-race version of Los Angeles?
Issues of race and cultural identity are a stalwart of North American cinema and its coverage. One has to only think of films where the entire plot revolved on the colour of the character's skin, such as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), or engage explicitly with racial stereotypes, like much of Spike Lee's oeuvre. Meanwhile, academics have filled bookshelves with dissections of race and representation. As Daniel Bernardi writes in his text, 'The Persistence of Whiteness: race and contemporary Hollywood cinema' – “U.S cinema has consistently constructed whiteness, the representation and narrative form of Eurocentrism, as the norm by which all 'Others' fail by comparison.”
Rather than promote 'whiteness' as the norm, Mother and Child presents contemporary Los Angeles as a city of diverse cultures experiencing universal questions of family, longing and belonging via the bond of motherhood. This is such a rare joy. While race is used at times as a visual signifier, it is largely left out of the narrative and never used to reinforce stereotypes. Instead, Mother and Child is a rare case of American characters—plain and simple. Paco, played by Jimmy Smits, is described as “heavy set” rather than by cultural background by Karen, a white co-worker played by Annette Bening. The two are attracted to one another, which is another notable quality of the film. Inter-racial couples abound and while this is not in itself as rare as it once was, the fact that it is allowed to happen without justification is rare. Think for instance of the character Anton Briggs in Showtime's Dexter (I mention him because he is played by actor David Ramsey who also has a role in Mother and Child). Despite the lack of inhibition within the narrative of that show, the character of Anton Briggs is still defined by race, especially when he embarks on a relationship with (white) police officer Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter).
Questions of race and equality are of ongoing, concern for many U.S actors, filmmakers and audiences. You only have to take the actors cast in Mother and Child to see how interwoven race and representation remain in Hollywood. Lisa Gay Hamilton famously wrote to the Village Voice arguing about racism in casting. Hamilton was denied the role of Hester Prynne in playwright Phyllis Nagy's production of The Scarlet Letter because of her race and made sure that it became pubic knowledge. In 1997, Smits, together with actors Esai Morales (La Bamba) and Sônia Braga, was one of the founders of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. The foundation's dual missions are to further education and “expand career opportunities for existing talent in all aspects of entertainment and the performing arts”.
This is all the more reason to be taken aback by the colour blindness of Mother and Child. It is so refreshing to see cultural tonalities and diverse interracial relationships explored with such an open heart and mind. Has Hollywood gone colour blind? At least through the lens of Rodrigo García's it has.