Celebrating Mother Figures in Film & TV
Written by Amanda Lederle
Our mothers, grandmothers, and mother figures can be our guides, our best friends, or our first frenemies. Whichever relationship you may have, you can honor the mother figures in your life by watching the mother figures in these films and TV shows. Click the images for trailers.
Fresh Off The Boat
This comedic family story depicts the life of a Taiwanese-American family in the 90s. It was inspired by the life of now-famous chef Eddie Huang. It has been renewed for a sixth season and is the first Asian-American family show on a primetime network since 1994. Yay, Asian representation on the small screen!
Though the main voice comes from the narrator and eldest son, Eddie, the star of the Huang family is arguably Jessica, the mom. Played by Constance Wu, Jessica represents the strong female foundation that holds this family together. Her sassy, quick snaps are hidden behind a beautiful smile—you definitely don’t want to mess with her. She is truly a bad-mutha.
But like most strong Asian females who can run a household, there is always one other strong Asian female who has the final word: Grandma. Mother-in-laws are always protective of their sons and are not afraid to show it. In later seasons, they eventually restore their relationship, because what else can years of criticism really represent in uncommunicative Asian relationships but respect?
One Day At A Time
You may recognize the title, as the current version of the show is a revival. This series was originally created by sitcom legend Norman Lear, known for popular 70s shows like All in the Family and Sanford and Sons.
Matriarch Penelope “Lope” Alvarez is a veteran, nurse, and single mom of two. Her mother, Lydia, played by the vibrant Rita Moreno (famous for her performance as Anita in the 1961 movie West Side Story) lives with the Alvarez family in a little apartment in LA. Like most good family sitcoms, their landlord frequents their apartment and behaves like an adopted uncle. Everyone wants to be a part of this loving family.
Lope works hard to ensure her Cuban-American family is safe, proud of their heritage, and provided for. She shows resilience and is not afraid to speak up when she sees injustice. She serves as a strong female figure for her daughter, Elena.
In the episode titled “Anxiety,” Lope experiences panic attacks: the scene turns from color to black and white, and she suffers from heavy breathing and sweating. Later on, Elena also experiences anxiety. Lope reveals to her daughter that she has it too and that she goes to therapy to manage her post-traumatic stress.
The Alvarez family does not hesitate to discuss matters that pertain to mental health and addictions, immigration (under the current presidency), racism, and LGBTQ+ issues. Whether it is a protest, discussion about anxiety or respecting pronouns, Lope stands by Elena.
Unfortunately, this three season series was canceled, leaving fans in an uproar.
The Guilt Trip (Fletcher, 2012)
I am a sucker for Seth Rogen films. It’s not only because he is Canadian and has an adorable chuckle—his humor and choice of stories are refreshing and relatable. In this film, mom Barbra Streisand (gasp!) follows her son, played by Rogen, on a trip to showcase his invented product on a home shopping channel. This movie is a great example of a quintessential relationship between a Jewish mom and her son, full of overbearing and unwavering love, support, and courage.
This comedy surrounds an upper-middle-class African-American family and is a show that does not shy away from social, political, and cultural contemporary issues in America, including what it means to be black.
This household is run by doctor and mom of five, Rainbow “Bow” Johnson, played by Tracee Ellis Ross. In the episode titled “Mother Nature,” Bow experiences postpartum depression. Grandmother Ruby, played by the incomparable Jenifer Lewis, is another strong female figure in the Johnson household. She steps in to reconcile her relationship with Bow, in order to best support her daughter-in-law. The Johnson children also rally together to support Bow, and she explains the normalcy and stigmas of mental health in life.
Black-ish has an Emmy, is Golden Globe-nominated, and has two spinoffs, Grown-ish, and its soon-to-be-released prequel, Mixed-ish. Black-ish is in its fifth season.
Reconciling an old mother-daughter relationship is the main storyline in this sixth season primetime sitcom. This comedy is about Christy, a young mom (played by the hilarious Anna Faris), who is recovering from alcohol addiction and goes to AA alongside her mom (the amazing Allison Janney).
This show is a great example of mothers in recovery struggling to mend broken relationships while also figuring out their own lives. Another hit from sitcom king Chuck Lorre, this show brings viewers inside the world of AA meetings, highlighting the fellowship of the sponsor/sponsee relationships and life in the program. Representing addiction on a primetime comedy series is a impressive step forward in discussing mental health in the media.
In this Emmy-nominated Canadian comedy series, writer, creator, and star of the show, Catherine Reitman (recognize that last name?) showcases the strength of new moms. She is the daughter of Ivan Reitman, director of classic films like Ghostbusters (1984) and Kindergarten Cop (1990).
In the cold opening, we get a glimpse of the show’s bold and innovative style with the sight of female nipples! Finally! Why male nipples are readily shown on television while women hide theirs is unknown to me.
This story follows the unlikely friendship between four women as they each struggle within their early stages of motherhood: juggling work, family, and their mental health. This refreshing Canadian mom show is just what we’ve needed to see.
Jane the Virgin
Our protagonist, Jane, is your average Venezuelan-Mexican girl who lives with her young mother and abuela. She has a Type A personality, a loving boyfriend, and she’s a virgin. Life is hopeful and bright until—she finds out she is pregnant!? How does this happen? you may ask. By way of accidental artificial insemination: she was impregnated by her boss Rafael's sperm. What will she tell her detective boyfriend, Michael? What does her future hold? And is she still a virgin?
Jane later does become a mom and is guided by her mother, Xiomara, a sexually-charged, laid-back dancer who had Jane at a very young age. Of course, this means that Jane’s abuela, Alba, has experience with young single moms. Alba becomes the executive voice for the younger generation. Her daughter and granddaughter go to her for advice about love, work, and following one’s heart.
This quick-humored, narrated telenovela combines drama, comedy, and romance. When I first watched the show, I honestly didn’t think I would like it (it can be a bit cheesy), but eventually fell in love with its humor and the honesty of the characters.
Gina Rodriguez is gorgeous and also an amazing actress; she won a Golden Globe for her role as Jane. See her in her newest Netflix’s film, Someone Great (Robinson, 2019). You can see my take on the film in my post, 13 Films & TV Shows To Watch.
Snatched (Levine, 2017)
This movie was so fun to watch, but you probably don’t want to watch it if you are going on a trip with your mom in the near future.
This film is like all mother-daughter renewal storylines, except that what binds these two them together is their kidnapping. It is a hilarious and fresh new view on how women support each other. The film has a full cast of comedy stars: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Randall Park, Ike Barinholtz, Christopher Meloni, Joan Cusack, and Wanda Sykes.
Crazy Rich Asians (Chu, 2018)
Finally, a film I can watch with my whole family and see Asians reflected on the screen. They are just like us—except for the gargantuan amount of money.
I didn’t expect to react this way, but when Constance Wu first appears onscreen, I had to hold back tears. As the first studio movie in 25 years to have a full Asian cast, I don’t have to tell you how vital this film was as a box office smash in 2018. No matter what your cultural background, anyone can relate to this film full of family traditions, laughs, and a whole lot of love.
Santa Clarita Diet
Have you ever had food poisoning? Well, I am sure you haven’t had it as bad as the characters in this series. Their normal suburban family life takes a turn when Sheila, played by Drew Barrymore, starts throwing up a vile amount. Eventually, they realize she is undead.
This family show is weird yet has a lot of heart. This horror comedy also stars Timothy Olyphant and is in its third season on Netflix.
Amanda is a film enthusiast that has dedicated their life to mental health awareness, CreateBeing.com. Amanda has a background in Film Studies and lives with their partner and their chinchilla, Chewbacca in Toronto, Canada.