When The Kids Grow Up, Motherhood Becomes A State Of 'Otherhood'

Jul 28, 2019
Originally published on July 28, 2019 10:17 am

The kids are grown. The house is empty. Otherhood is what comes after motherhood.

The new Netflix film stars Angela Bassett, Patricia Arquette and Felicity Huffman as three best friends whose sons have grown up — all the way up — together. As the three moms celebrate Mother's Day with each other rather than with their kids, they decide that they've had enough.

"Their sons are not connecting with them," Angela Bassett tells NPR. "They're not sending flowers; they're not giving them a call."

Sure, maybe they sent a text ... but does that really cut it? Having an adult child "is essentially being broken up with little by little by little — they're just not into you anymore," Bassett says.

So they hatch a plan to drive to New York together to surprise their grown-up sons. The moms reason: "They can deal with having us in their homes for a few days — they were in ours for 18 years."

In real life, Bassett is the mother of twins so she knows about the sacrifices of parenting young kids. "They're absolutely helpless," she says. "You are consumed by them — by keeping them safe, feeding them, providing for them, for presenting a good example for them. ... They are a vortex that you fall into."

Her character in the film, Carol, is "trying to emerge" from the all-encompassing stage of motherhood and remember who she is as an individual. "Her husband has passed away — she was a wife. Her son has gone off — she was a mother," Bassett explains.

Carol (Angela Bassett) shows up unannounced in New York City for a surprise visit with her adult son, Matt (Sinqua Walls) in the new Netflix film Otherhood.
Linda Kallerus / Netflix

As a mother, Carol put herself on the "back burner," and Bassett says her trip to New York is about rediscovery — "reconnecting with herself as much as with her son."

Carol's son has become a successful, New York art director. "You know who you are without me," she tells him. "I need to figure out who I am without you."

As Bassett has balanced career and family, she says having her own children didn't make her lose her sense of self — but she does sometimes wish for more family meals. "I can't do the things I would like to do — like the dinners around the table," she says.

But just because she can't do dinner doesn't mean she can't do breakfast. "You just try to express your appreciation of them, love for them, in whatever special way you can, with whatever time that you have," she says.

Bassett was also drawn to Otherhood because it celebrated the power of female friendships. She has a profound appreciation for her own close friends — "I think they are everything ..." she says. "I really am made just bigger and more interesting by their conversations and by the time that I spend in their company." The Netflix film reflects that.

Her on-screen friend — Otherhood co-star Felicity Huffman — recently pleaded guilty to her involvement in a massive college admissions bribery scandal. Bassett says she hadn't really known Huffman before working on the film, and was glad to hear her express remorse for her wrongdoing.

"I understand that you would throw yourself in front of a moving train for your kids — but also you're always trying to be a good example for them," she says. Bassett's glad Huffman accepted the consequences for her actions — "that's a lesson that I try to teach my kids," Bassett says.

Bassett says she's also tried to teach her teenage twins tough lessons about race and racism. They're growing up in a different time than she did, but "the ugliness of it" is still present in their lives, she says. Her goal is to educate her kids and provide them with history and context: "You don't want them to be ignorant of what has gone down because you really might get your feelings hurt one day if you are blissfully ignorant," she says.

Her approach is to have conversations, but not to "dwell on it. "You just try to instill in them a respect for themselves and a respect for other people."

Bassett feels that she's gained wisdom with age, and says it's unfair that society makes old people like they are "disappearing" or "diminishing." The roles offered to her have changed over time. First you're the young women, then you're the mother ... "I think I'm the grandmother next," she says. "You know that's on the horizon."

But she tries not to worry about age too much. When Bassett first arrived in Hollywood, "40 was the death knell age ..." she says. "It felt as if you had to be that ingénue forever." She feels less that way now.

"What we see on the screen is more entertaining when we see what life really looks like, you know?" Bassett believes that it's OK to see "the cracks and the creases — it's the character of life."

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Mothers of sons may know the feeling when their little boy isn't so little anymore and feels far away. That's what drives the new film "Otherhood." Three longtime friends have sons who grew up together, moved to New York and, well, don't call as often as they should. So the moms take a trip in an attempt to reconnect, and things don't go quite as smoothly as they hoped. Angela Bassett stars as one of the mothers, Carol, whose husband has recently passed away. Bassett, acclaimed for her roles in films like "Malcolm X," "What's Love Got To Do With It" and "Black Panther," says that over the course of this movie, her character comes to understand otherhood.

ANGELA BASSETT: We say otherhood is that stage after motherhood. Her husband has passed away. She was a wife. Her son has gone off. She was a mother. And while they were growing together, she, in an essence, you know, as women do sometimes, nurtured them, put herself on the back burner, her desires. And it's about getting back to that, if you can, you know, once they've gone on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to play a clip from the movie now where Carol has just been out on the town after crashing her son's work party - yeah, that happened. And she's getting some late night pizza with her friends when the topic of aging comes up. Let's listen.


PATRICIA ARQUETTE: (As Gillian Lieberman) By the way, you have incredible new beauty products.

FELICITY HUFFMAN: (As Helen Haston) Yeah, it's all anti-aging.

BASSETT: (As Carol) Why is everyone anti-aging? You know what's anti-aging? Death. Let's be happy we're aging.

ARQUETTE: (As Gillian Lieberman) Yeah.

HUFFMAN: (As Helen Haston) Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You will turn 61 in August, and I have to tell you, in this film, when you put on that dress for that party, you look like you could be the man (ph) who plays your son's girlfriend. You look amazing.

BASSETT: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, extraordinary. And I normally don't talk about the way women look, but do you think in this era of #MeToo and a lot of the discussions that have been happening in Hollywood around women, around pay equity, that the stigma against aging for women in Hollywood has changed at all or not?

BASSETT: I think it feels as if it's expanded a little bit. I remember when first coming to to Hollywood it seemed like 40 was the death nail age (laughter). And I don't feel that so much anymore. You know, it felt as if you, you know, had to be that ingenue forever. You couldn't - I mean, having a family, getting - becoming pregnant was a stigma. Forty was a stigma. I think it's relaxed a bit. And what we see on the screen is more entertaining when we see what life really looks like.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to ask you about race. You've been outspoken about the fact that your own kids have confronted racism and that word, as you know, has been in the news lately. How do you navigate this climate right now as a mother and as a black woman and as a person with a big voice?

BASSETT: You know, it's interesting. It's not easy. It's - sometimes you feel a little bit schizophrenic, you know, because when I grew up you remember the history. It's not too far from separate this, that and other thing. And now with my kids growing up, they don't have that same sense that I have. But yet sometimes the ugliness of it does pop up. So you're trying to educate them that it does exist and give them the history of. And at the same time, you're not trying to put a thing on them. You want them to accept people as they come to you and as they present themselves, you know, and give folks a chance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your co-star in this movie Felicity Huffman has pled guilty to her involvement in a college admissions scandal. And I'm wondering your reaction to that and if you've spoken to her since it happened.

BASSETT: No, I haven't spoken to her. Working on "Otherhood," that was my first opportunity to know her, to know her, to be around her. So I was very pleased to hear her statement of remorse. Of course, I understand that you'll throw yourself in front of a moving train for your kids. But also you always trying to be a good example for them. We're all - none of us perfect and have things that we've done that we wouldn't want anyone to know, probably. None of us are. But I'm so glad to see that she was remorseful and that she's willing to accept the consequences that come along with those actions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to also say that you are up for an Emmy. You have been nominated in the best narrator category for the film "The Flood" and you've never won an Emmy before. And if you win, you will be in the exclusive club of Emmy-winning couples. Your husband, of course, is Courtney B. Vance. You've been married for a quarter of a century. He has an Emmy already. And I guess it brought to mind this question, what makes a good marriage? Tell us your secret.

BASSETT: Oh, child.


BASSETT: Oh, marry the right person. That's the secret (laughter). Marry someone who understands what you're doing, allows you to be you. Say follow your muse.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Angela Bassett's new movie is "Otherhood."

Thank you very much.

BASSETT: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.