Skip to content
Eye Logo link to homepageEye Film Museum Logo, link to homepage
05 bush mama 01

Bush Mama

Haile Gerima / US, 1977

For his final project, the Ethiopian American filmmaker Haile Gerima created a semi-documentary, semi-fictional story about the political awakening of a young mother in the black neighblourhood of Watts. Gerima was one of the members of L.A. Rebellion, a group of politically involved filmmakers at UCLA. Part of Looking for America: Black Lives on Screen.

Poster ce

In 1965 heavy riots broke out in Watts, a large black neighbourhood in South Los Angeles, whose residents were the victims of poverty, ineffectual schooling and social exclusion. It was the time of the Civil Rights movement and growing black self-awareness – the conditions in which a large part of America”s black population had to live were no longer taken for granted. Over 35,000 residents in the Watts district rose up in protest, after which the city authorities proclaimed the state of emergency.

Haile Gerima studied at UCLA in the seventies, where independent African American, Caribbean and African filmmakers and video makers formed a group under the name L.A. Rebellion. The events in Watts were among the things that inspired them to make films.

Gerima”s final project involved a tale about Dorothy, a young black mother whose husband and Vietnam veteran T.C. returns from the war. Rather than being hailed as a hero, he is thrown in jail after having been arrested for a crime he didn”t commit. Dorothy now has to live on benefits in an area gripped by poverty and unemployment. Slowly but steadily the young woman (performed by actress Barbara O. Jones) becomes radicalized.

Gerima filmed on the streets, encouraged his actors to improvise and edited the images into a cinema vérité-like film full of social criticism that was inspired by Godard.

Bush Mama received praise for its honesty, its experimental audacity and its layered soundtrack, but only found a distributor in 1979.

Precdeded by the short dance film Four Women (US 1975, 7”), with music by musician and civil rights activist Nina Simone. This short film was directed by Julie Dash, a member of the L.A. Rebellion Group.

"L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema is a project by UCLA Film & Television Archive developed as part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980. The original series took place at UCLA Film & Television Archive in October–December 2011, curated by Allyson Nadia Field, Jan-Christopher Horak, Shannon Kelley and Jacqueline Stewart.”

This is part of



Haile Gerima

Production year




Original title

Bush Mama




Part of

Looking for America

This autumn Eye is taking an inquisitive look at the United States. How does the age-old ideal of a ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ relate to the difficult reality of today?

Learn more
campaign image Looking For America
Still1 3
Bush mama
Planning on having a drink or a bite to eat? Book online for Eye Bar Restaurant.
Share your love for film and become a member of the Eye Society.

Current exhibition

  • 20 January — 20 May 2024

    Paravel & Castaing-Taylor

    Cosmic Realism

Films, talks & events

Show everything

for anytime

in all languages

Sort by