Kiara Mohamed, “Founding Mother”, online at The Royal Standard
From “tomorrow is another day” to “take the first step”, people really like to believe that a new beginning is easy. As an eternal cynic my first response to such slogans is that they trivialise the process, that many issues take more than a night’s sleep and a new sunrise to come to terms with. They may have a basis in reality – I firmly do believe that a restart is always possible – but they make it sound easy, selling us an answer without the work.
There’s something to consider about this sentiment in the opening lines of Founding Mother, a film by Kiara Mohamed, accessible to watch online as a micro-commission for The Royal Standard’s ‘Utopia’ series. The verse the film opens with is:
“Imagine that you are a 17/ years old girl/ and you’ve decided that/ instead of spending all that/ energy to killing yourself/ that you will use that energy/ to live”
Don’t see the connection? Well it’s a starkly honest opening, one which sets a marker for the next six minutes. Founding Mother is the story of the circumstances and consequences of this decision, and what it means as a lived experience. That a first step might actually lead somewhere after all.
The poetry is accompanied by a visual story of Mohamed taking a walk on the beach. Wrapped in swatches of pink, she appears as a kind of spirit figure, one who carries wisdom and experience, and a kind of contentment above these. Joy appears in moments, but her figure is more about finding peace. The narrative tells us that this image of a being at home in her environment is not as straightforwardly idyllic as it appears. Nature occupies a complicated space – one not only of healing, but also of hiding. Of unity with nature as a wish to deny the individuality which defines her reality.
It’s therefore fitting that the footage is played in reverse. You won’t notice this at first, until you realise that some actions appear to be almost supernatural. It twists our natural perception/ our perception of nature. And the control of this perception is in the hands of the filmmaker – Mohamed. It shows the evolution which has taken place since that 17 year old girl had those feelings of alienation, of a woman taking control of her own story. As part of ‘Utopia’, this is what Mohamed shows is possible – that defining your own conditions of experience is a real possibility.
It’s a good time for a story like this. As lockdown ebbs away, am I the only person seriously considering what my life – not just the big structural questions in the whole world, but my own personal interactions with that – needs to look like? It’s not that the last few months has given me “space to reset” – I find a lot about the way this phrase is being thrown about cringeworthy. But the coming out of it is throwing up big things – identifying all which I’ll be happy to have back and what I won’t. The reason I hate the use of the “pause/reset” narrative is because I think it’s being used and overused to become meaningless, by people and organisations who really have little interest in meaningful change because the status quo works for them. And on a personal level I feel increasingly in turmoil about going back to what this was.
It’s in this facet that I find nourishment in Founding Mother. It’s a deeply personal story, but one which uplifts me in how it exemplifies the possible. that Mohamed has rejected a state which didn’t serve her to become the author of her own future and message – that’s what I needed this week. That’s why I think it’s in a good format too, and not just because I think film makes better art for “home consumption”. I appreciate its accessibility, the fact that I could watch this on a lunch break, offering a tonic of contemplation. I don’t want to be too self-centring and minimise Mohamed’s personal story within this, which is about a story much bigger than a rough few months. But though hurt is the narrative force, it’s not the centre of the film as a whole – healing is. Restoration is.
I find comfort and inspiration in Founding Mother, but I don’t find easy answers. There’s a true sadness in Mohamed’s voice as she asks ‘why was I not like them?’ – her building of her own story is not sugar-coated as easy. Tomorrow may have been another day to that 17-year-old, but it takes thousands of tomorrow’s to build a life we want. Mohamed’s film doesn’t shy away from the struggle of this, but offers hope that other worlds can be begun.