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3 Radically Different Representations of Motherhood in 60s Films

Three movies, each released in the same decade, each with a radically different depiction of mothering.

 

1. A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

Based on the play of the same name written by twenty-six-year-old Lorraine Hansberry, this film focuses on a Black family’s attempts to create a future in 1950’s segregated White America. A mother (Ruby Dee) and son (Sidney Poitier), deeply bound by love but also separately wounded by racism, struggle with their visions of success in a country that has already deeply divided them. Having recently received several thousand dollars from a life insurance policy, he wants to buy a liquor store; she wants to finally leave their cramped apartment in the city and purchase a home for the family. His desire to be the “man” of the family and achieve economic success, and her desire to raise her family in a safe and tranquil neighborhood highlight the intersection of race and gender and its profound effect on both characters.

 

2. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Cold War, Russian interference in the U.S. presidential race, a political assassination--this film both examines the past and predicts the future. It was promoted as a thriller, but the extraordinarily bizarre relationship between a political wife (Angela Lansbury) and her war-hero son (Lawrence Harvey) steals the show. Is there a maternal instinct? How much control should mothers have over their children, and is a son bound to love his mother? These were all radical questions for the postwar fifties and sixties when motherhood was represented as close to sainthood.

 

3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

I saw this when I was seven and a half months pregnant at a local theatre; freaked out and frightened, I was in labor the next morning. A young newly-wed (Mia Farrow) whose beautiful new apartment is next door to what turns out to be a witch’s coven is graphically and horribly raped by Satan and then gives birth to his child. That’s the quick summary; all of this takes place against the backdrop of daily life and is even sporadically comedic. A reading that goes beyond the genre of horror might suggest that the film mimics the experience of pregnancy and birth for women in misogynistic America.

 

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