Baby Mama's Club - The Interview: Powerful, strong, brave, solo mums.
Baby Mama’s Club is a web-series that boasts four strong-minded brown women in lead roles. Though the hunt for the suddenly absent baby-daddy Johnny is the catalyst that brings them together, the show is ultimately about showcasing the resilience, intelligence and fortitude of women, particularly solo mothers.
“Each character has an issue that they’re facing. Kowhai’s character (Moana Johnson) is the struggle of the solo Mum. Sophia’s (Luciane Buchanan) is about the racial tension of being a half-caste woman, I think Malia (Suivai Autagavaia) is definitely about that familial pressure of having to have what a perfect family looks like as a Samoan girl,” explains Hanelle Harris, who created and directed the show and plays the role of Shan, whose character is at first intimidating, but later becomes the mother-hen of the ragtag group.
“I think Shan is about motherhood even if you’re not a mum, it’s important we acknowledge the women out there that can’t have children, the women out there that are mothers to children that aren’t their own – they’re all mothers.”
A show with Māori and Pacific women at the helm is a show that Suivai Autagavaia says people are hungry for, and that statement is backed up by the fervour with which the show has been received on social media the day it was released. The series trailer has been shared more than 2,000 times with 211k views just one day after being posted on facebook. The pilot episode garnered more than 100k views on youtube. Still, it had been met with skepticism.
"There was an email that was accidentally forwarded to us, and it basically said, ‘I don’t know who would watch this, and, there’s no audience for it.’"
Suiviai Autagavaia says when looks at shows on TV, she thinks, “It’s always their story, not ours.” Or, adds Hanelle, the roles they go for are so type-cast, so token. Suivai talks about being put up for roles that are a Pākehā’s version of what a brown person is, “You see these characters that we have to audition for, it just doesn’t reach out to you. I don’t look this part, I don’t sound this part … And I never get the part anyway.”
Moana Johnson talks about feeling like she is perhaps not Māori enough for the roles she has tried for, “I got this audition the other day and the woman had to use a taiaha, and the poi and speak te reo Māori. And, you know, I can’t do those roles, and I can’t get the pākehā roles either.”
So, she says it was amazing when she had the opportunity to play Kowhai for Baby Mama’s Club.
“It was like, a fresh waterfall, a fresh pacific ocean”, said Suivai when asked to describe how refreshing it was to play Malia. “It’s real, it’s so real, it’s so refreshing and once people watch this they’re going to be like, 'Wow, that’s my story'. There’s gonna be other people that see it and say, 'This speaks to me'.”
When the issue of the under representation or misrepresentation of women, particularly brown women, and brown mothers in the media comes up, Moana groans, “Don’t even get me started.”
“We’re never shown as being cool, or sexy, to start with,” says Hanelle, “I think that’s something the public are going to bash us a lot about.”
Moana talks about the expectations, or restrictions, she has felt as a mother, “You can’t own your sexuality, and you can’t follow your passion. You have to be a mother only. And that’s what my ex-boyfriend always used to say to me. He always used to say, ‘Why are you going out? You’re a mother.’ You can’t have fun or anything. I think that’s why it’s so important that this show shows you can have that balance. You can be a great mum, and you can go to a party.”
“And follow your dreams,” adds Suivai.
Hanelle Harris conceived the idea for Baby Mama's Club when she became a single mother herself, and says it was Moana that helped her rediscover her sexuality.
“You’re already going through this whole, 'I’ve had a baby, I’ve got stretch marks, no one will like my body', but actually that wasn’t the case. I think that a lot of young mums, they feel like used goods, which I totally did. I didn’t feel sexy, I didn’t feel confident in myself and I thought no man would want me.”
She says that’s why it was important to show mothers as sexual beings through Kowhai’s character. Kowhai is a mum, and has a man who is hot, and young, and two men who genuinely like her and would fight for her.
“I think as young solo mums we play games with ourselves and we say that we’re not worth being loved or looked at and appreciated or chased after.”
When asked what she wants people to take away from the show, Moana recalls her first year being a single mother, and how isolating that was for her, “When people watch this, I’d really like them to feel less alone.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being a solo mother, you don’t have to listen to all the haters about being a perfect mum,” Malia adds, “They don’t know how powerful and strong and brave mums are, especially solo mothers, they kick ass.”
For Hanelle, it was also important to have a show that had different cultures working together and getting along, even if they all relentlessly mocked each other along the way.
“It’s all about us coming together as a sub-culture. I really want us to start thinking in that way because we need to if we’re going to survive in the mainstream.”
There are nods to the cultural make-up of Auckland throughout the series, including the title cards being read in a different Pacific language at the start of each episode.
“One of my favourite moments is when Malia goes to see Kowhai, a Māori woman, and she makes her Koko Samoa. Originally, it was always just a cup of tea, and one night I was making Koko and thought, what another beautiful layer of connection it would be if Kowhai made Koko for Malia as a way of bringing cultures together.”
It was also important to her that this show wasn’t about women going at each other.
“I just hope that in that final image they can see that they’re a family, on their own, and they don’t need Johnny. Because that was always the intention, that they are for the children.”
“Whether they find him or not, those women have to choose each other, which they did.”