‘Umama’ Short Film: Interview With Talia Smith And Malibongwe Mdwaba


By: Amanda Guarragi

Umama written and directed by Talia Smith shows the true story of a mother whose son has gone missing. It is a story of love, loss and acceptance. The morning after Sibongile made a promise to celebrate her son’s academic achievement, she wakes to find he is missing. Sibongile (Connie Chiume) still goes into work and she must care for the children, of her employer, in order to get home and keep her promise. Before heading to NYU, Smith was born and raised in South Africa. She wanted to highlight these stories in the most honest way. Smith had a personal connection to the story because of her childhood. She had a second mother, which is an Americanized way of labelling her as a ‘domestic worker’. Smith wanted to showcase her heritage through these special relationships.

What started out as a class assignment for Talia Smith had turned into a very important film exploring South African culture,

“This is a very common South African story, but on top of that, non-South Africans can relate to the universal theme but also start to see South Africans, not only their stories, but their talent. There are so many incredible stories so I hope that comes across to non-South Africans audiences.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

The beauty of this story is the connection between Sibongile and the children she cared for, even the dynamic between the mother (her employer) and Sibongile. There is a level of respect and love that can only be felt by those who have experienced connections such as theirs. It is essentially like choosing your own family and at the end of the day, they will support you through anything. That is the love that is shared in this film. Sibongile is having a difficult time with her teenage son Thabiso (Malibongwe Mdwaba). She feels detached from his life but Thabiso is trying to venture out and create his own path.

When watching Umama, we see both perspectives in a balanced way. The worried mother, who is trying her best to work and raise her son. And the teenager, who is trying to survive his high school years by making the right decisions. When asked about his own connection to Thabiso, Mdwaba said,

“To be taken back to that sort of timeline, gave me the time to see the bigger picture and heal from those moments. It really spoke to the kind of work that I love doing. That’s any work that has to do with mirroring society, in the most truthful manner and rarely do we get those stories, where we are literally not fabricating anything and we are just telling it as it is.”

– Malibongwe Mdwaba, Umama

We have all gone through our own hardships, in our teenage years and Mdwaba used this character to heal from his own experiences. There was so much thought, care and love that went into this story.

What Smith and Mdwaba hope audiences gain from this story is the connectivity of human relationships. It does not matter how you are connected to the other person, all that matters is the love and respect that is shared. Smith has had discussions with psychologists that deal with families in a lot of these situations and she is trying to create a toolkit,

“Once people have watched the film, if you relate to a character you will be able to kind of see how you fit into that category and figure out something that you may need, or how you can help other people in your life find resources.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

To see an extension of love and support in this way through filmmaking, just shows how genuine Smith is. Her stories will always be rooted in something honest and personal. It is a reflection of how she sees the world and how she wants people to perceive it through universal themes.

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