"Seven Mothers" is about death. It's about the blow and the weight of it, how there is no room for the hardest hit to mourn or sit in darkness, and how quickly, how mercilessly, time advances despite the crushing size of your loss.
But it's also about death's necessity to life—what we leave behind and how we are more than individual islands, how communities transcend blood and close around you, healing the wound of absence while creating a powerful circuit through which the dead can go on talking to you, encouraging you, loving you.
It's unlike any Reebok ad we've ever seen.
Written and directed by Director X and produced by m ss ng p eces, the short film promotes Reebok's second collection in collaboration with Pyer Moss, a fashion brand founded in 2013 by Haitian American designer Kerby Jean-Raymond. Jean-Raymond calls Pyer Moss an "art project" or "timely social experiment" that aspires to get people talking about social narratives that are otherwise commonly accepted.
Oliviero Toscani of Benetton has often expressed that brands have a responsibility to use their platforms to trigger social change. Jean-Raymond approaches Pyer Moss the same way, using limited collections and runways to combine storytelling with activism.
"Seven Mothers," based on Jean-Raymond's own childhood, specifically focuses on the modern black family, community and the role of women in those spaces.
A young boy loses his mother. What follows are a mix of flashbacks and the cruel progression of the present. His care and education are co-opted by an array of different women. Are they aunties, sisters, church ladies? It doesn't matter. Often in tight-knit minority communities, all those things are one and the same, unrecognizably blurred even once you've become an adult.
But these women are not the mother he lost. Their approaches at the outset, however well-meaning, seem discordant with the boy, who almost seems like a distant observer in funerary events. Maybe this is because funerals are largely an adult affair, more ritualized theater than a useful compass on choppy seas. Also, this is what death does: It tears right through you, making you a stranger in a strange land.
The wheel of time turns. The plant grows, and the boy tries: He dances with his auntie, goes to church, wears clothes that aren't black. He, too, is woven back into a fold, invisible but thick and strong. And through each woman's face, each forward step, he feels his mother. It culminates in the kind of dream that often happens after such a death—a visit.
Last month we looked at Nike's "We've Always Done It," directed by Eloise King. It was thick with intersectional roots and Vodou influences, a story about the body but also about the spirit.
While they don't seem related, "Seven Mothers" bears similarly spiritual roots: Seven's always been seen as a "lucky" number, and the role of mother is probably the most commonly discussed in divine feminine narratives. The actual notion of "Seven Mothers" can be traced to Hinduism's Matrikas, a group of mother goddesses often depicted in a group of seven, each a different personification of power, sometimes associated with the seven sisters of the Pleiades.
#BlackLivesMatter, and the ongoing gentrification of cities with strong black communities, like Oakland—itself a rising star in films like Black Panther and Sorry to Bother You—is a vivid topic of social discussion. We're having to reckon with stereotypes left lazily unchallenged and their terrible costs. One of the happier results is how much great art is coming out to trigger those thought processes, from Get Out to Atlanta.
The same thing is happening with #MeToo: Incel culture is fueled by misogyny. And for every man visible enough to get slain for a fairer world, an untold number of women fear or experience the movement's backlash. No system under attack dies quietly.
Late last year, the Wu-Tang Clan launched a lipstick line. "In previous generations, the feminine energy has been dampened by the world. But now, women's strength, beauty and wisdom is finally being celebrated," the Wu's RZA explained.
"Warriors come in all forms, but right now women are the modern warriors, unapologetic in their strength and speaking out about things they've held in or feared they'd be shunned for, on both a personal and political level."
"Seven Mothers" is very much about that. Conceived in the fracturing of our cultural identities, it bears out something hopeful—something that transcends difference, and whose spirituality is bigger than the sides our identities force us to take. It is a story about how falling forward into the arms of others can heal rifts, and does not render your private pain less legitimate.
Check out the second collection of the "Reebok by Pyer Moss" line on the Pyer Moss website. "Seven Mothers" continues the story Jean-Raymond began on a runway show in November, titled "American, Also: Lesson 2."