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“Who cares for the caregiver?” asks filmmaker Loira Limbal in her recent documentary Through the Night, now screening virtually as part of the 16th Camden International Film Festival. A warm-hearted yet humbling portrait of Dee’s Tots Childcare, a 24-hour childcare center in New Rochelle, NY, the film poses urgent questions about the ever-pressing conditions and unfulfilled needs of Black and brown working-class mothers.
Buzzing through her intimate home-turned-childcare facility, Deloris “Nunu” Hagan opens the film with high spirits as the night shift begins. The walls are peppered with decades-worth of baby photos, rooms overflow with decorative toys and signage, and playful shrieks abound, suggesting that for Nunu, there is no separation between her work and personal life. Tenderly stitched together by editor Malika Zouhali-Worrall, almost ritualistic scenes of Nunu’s labor toggle between her cleaning, cooking, educating, and offering emotional support for the children and parents who seek out her services. Her husband and business partner Patrick (“Pop Pop”), daughter, and friends offer help but this operation is undeniably her own vision. Nunu’s role, while one she has embraced, is one all too commonly shunted to Black women — willing or unwilling — and without enough structural support. But, Limbal is careful to not depict Nunu as a martyr, as cultural archetypes of caregivers often suggest. Instead, she wants to shift the public dialogue on how caregivers are regarded.
Alternating between the stories of two single mothers and their children who are regulars at the daycare, Through the Night soberly conveys the demands and incongruities of our wage labor economy. Shanona is a pediatric nurse who often works overnight, requiring her children to stay long hours at the daycare. Marisol works three part-time jobs — including one at a supermarket that refuses to allocate a full-time position in order to skirt around paying for health benefits. Both are spared little time to share with their children and seek out Nunu’s daycare as not only a necessary service, but also a site of refuge and camaraderie.
Limbal, a mother herself, as well as DJ and a full-time advocate for filmmakers of color through her work at Firelight Media, is no stranger to the world of film production and its systematized, capitalist reign and inhospitality towards working mothers — especially mothers of color. In a recent panel during the 9th BlackStar Film Festival, titled “Mothering and Laboring the Cinematic Revolution,” Limbal emphasized the need to trouble the “mother as martyr” archetype and collectively reimagine how we view and treat people who mother. A proposed multi-year campaign for social change outlined on the film’s website — including a reading list and a fundraiser that supported eleven childcare facilities through earlier, pandemic-induced closures — illustrates Limbal’s commitment to extending the rallying call of Through the Night beyond the scope of the film.
As she makes plain, caregiving is not merely gendered labor, but a radical foundation to transform generations to come.
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