Fatherhood and society’s value of its presence in families ebb and flow generationally. Whilst this is true of society generally, let’s get specific we’re talking about black families here and its unique socio-economic branding whether or not fathers are consistently present in families.
Today, fatherhood and its definitions are being questioned by many cultures – and this examination brings into question notions of motherhood, gender, feminism, equality and other markers for our prescribed roles in society. Refreshingly from a British perspective, in her directorial debut Aysha Scott interrogates fatherhood via ‘Absent’ in her new feature film.
“It’s getting worse. You get more stories and more friends who are having kids who are left abandoned with the child. I’m ready to take it on.”
Aysha continues. “When I first started this story I was on a mission to change the law. That’s how serious I was about it because it was so traumatic going through that experience of being left with a child.”
‘Absent’ tells the story of 32-year-old ‘Angel Washington’, (played by Segilola Ogidan) a successful accountant, as she struggles to reignite the relationship between her ex partner, ‘Marcus’ (Kayode Akinyemi) and their son ‘Joshua’ (Jaden Ayodele). The film’s narrative takes on a number of scenarios concerning parental absenteeism. How did Aysha come to the story of ‘Absent’?
“My relationship with absent fathers is that my mum, she’s a single mum and she raised seven children on her own – like no dad in the picture. My dad, I didn’t meet until I was 11 years old. When my mum was pregnant [with Aysha] he went to America for a holiday he didn’t come back for 10 years. My dad, he’s been pretty much in and out of my life my whole life.”
Aysha becomes heartfelt and begins to open up further about what is obviously a sensitive part of her life and what brought her to make ‘Absent’…
“When I had my son [Scott has two children, a girl and a boy] at 10 weeks old, I noticed that [her son’s father showed] a lack of interest in just being a family and playing his role as a father. He stopped coming home from work. He was working as a stockbroker at the time [and leading up to the 10 weeks of her son’s life] the relationship broke down and he just went to live in the Philippines. I had to find out through his friends. He was going away forever to go and work in the Philippines. He was just not interested.”
Aysha begins to make historical connections between her own father leaving and finding herself similarly with her son’s father…
“Throughout my father’s absence I think I never really thought of it as anything, it was only until my son’s father became absent that I realised the effects. I handled it quite badly the rejection, I was quite angry I was going through a lot of pain; I was going through a really difficult time tryna handle it all. I think I was going through the effects of what my dad put me through on top of what was going on with him [her ex]. So it’s like this big cycle of pain. I was sitting there thinking ‘my dad wasn’t even there he never saw me born!’. Then when I was going through the stuff with my son’s father I was thinking ‘why couldn’t I just have a dad who would just hug me?!’ The psychological effects were deep. It was only until I got older that I realised. Fortunately for us [Aysha and her son’s father] we managed to get past those hurdles. We have a good agreement with our son and he has a strong involvement – even the holidays, he does one week, I do one week. I think that the most important thing is people need to start to identify with the effects they’re causing their children. You have men going around having multiple kids with multiple baby mothers, but you cannot stretch yourself that thin. Some child is gonna get damaged at some point.”
Aysha delves further into making connections within the cycle of abandonment women – and men endure. Cycles which are often left unresolved only to have a pattern repeat in subsequent generations…
“My dad was abandoned when he was six months old, his mum left him on my grandfather’s doorstep, he’s never seen her. The first time he saw a picture of her was the other day. So there’s the detachment, and he’s gone off and had so many kids with women all over the world.”
Aysha works with Segilola Ogidan who is Executive Producer. They’ve been good friends for some time. Ogidan in her own right is also a formidable business force combining producing, writing and acting talents. She appears a producer for the rom-com ‘Mum, Dad, Meet Sam (2014)’, ‘Mona (2016)’ and ‘Love Prevails (2012)’…
“She’s got a lot of experience and she’s worked in the industry for many, many years. We’re collaborating on this one together, her company OKP Productions and A Scott Productions.”
The contemporary divide over the aspect of fatherhood comes to the fore digitally. Where once greetings cards via ‘snail mail’ would announce the effectiveness of parenting, the Internet has opened up a whole new landscape to dash emotions – dealt with or not. Aysha indicates that this new arena only appears to have opened up another battleground between the sexes and their seeming competition between one another in the responsibility of parental duty. Are men and women still blaming each other? She answers emphatically…
We both begin to laugh hard at the Internet’s meltdown on occasions such as Father’s and Mother’s Day where the ‘my card’s bigger than yours’ rhetoric prevail!
“When it came to Father’s Day… I had to log off the Internet, I was like…my God, it was heavy stuff, and it was like a big battle! What men have to realise as well is that it’s not that we’re tryna take over your day or anything like that, but we’re playing the role of a man, so those good dads need to talk up as well. They’re sitting there saying ‘I’m sick of this’, yet your friend’s there not seeing his kid; talk to your friend. I think because it’s so accepted in the community… I mean people care, but they don’t really care enough to make a stand about it.”
She goes on to outline the real life duplicity of many situations, which she uses in the film and why, well sometimes life is stranger than fiction…
“When I broke up with my daughter’s father he was good, he did what he had to do! He’d be there at the doctor’s appointment he’d be there at the school, so I didn’t really feel the brunt of it. It was like I’m her mum he’s her dad we just don’t live together. My daughter’s father, he’s a good dad to her but then he’s not a dad to his other child. He’s not seen her in about four years. It doesn’t make sense. It’s because of the acceptance of it. So you can see one child but you can’t see the other. These things should not be acceptable. I believe the way ‘Absent’ is done, I don’t think it’s in a negative way it covers so many dynamics. ‘Cos even though I used events, I couldn’t use my story. My story was too much [she says laughing]. So I just mix different stories from different people with different experiences.”
Absent fathers, for whatever reason they’re not around leave non-too pleasant assumptions about families they’ve left behind. The women and any fallout from the lack of support become (up until recently) the ‘single mothers are…’ tabloid trope. Aysha explains about her own experiences in this area.
“Then came the stigma and the stereotypes of a single mum and the way they’re treated… it’s just not nice. I’m just the complete opposite of all these things the media try to portray, that we just sit around, sleeping with these men who are good for nothing. It doesn’t always happen like that. My son’s father was a good dad to his daughter, he had a good job; it was the opposite to what they portray in the media – that you just pick up these men on the road selling drugs.”
Defying the stereotypes, the south London director is a multiplicity of ideas and creativity – like so many mothers with or without the consistent presence of father figures. She hasn’t dampened her ambitions. Enter A Scott Productions. In line with her commitment to supporting young industry talent, it is a platform to include talent and media management and workshops, which provide industry training. She is very enthusiastic in helping to provide opportunity for youngsters. This is evident in her use of her casting director. Here, Aysha used a 21-year-old woman new to the industry.
“In terms of the crew, we work with a lot of young people. We’ve got a casting director her name is Georgina Charles and she’s 21. People might think why would you put young people in charge of the whole casting? For one, young people need that opportunity and they need it at a young age. [Also] we need ethnic storytellers from a very young age and we need them to be involved [and] not wait until your 40 and you just about get a job in the industry. No! I think they’re driven and they’re hungry for it and they’re dedicated.”
We learn more about the casting. Laughing, Aysha says…
“Oh the casting it took so long. ‘Cos I think when you have a vision and you want it to be right, it can’t be something that’s rushed. So, the mother’s [character] has Jamaican dialect in the script. We had to keep recasting the role because we couldn’t get people that could get it right. We didn’t wanna do that thing where you’re the ‘Jah-fake-can’, we wanted the real thing! We managed to get Laverne Archer [a stalwart of Jamaican theatre].”
Answering the call of men seeking guidance in the responsibilities of raising children a number of organisations have sprung up. They offer safe spaces for men to talk about grievances and ultimately healing for themselves and their families. We’re mostly bombarded by the USA and their attempts in this area, but the issue is as acute in the UK. Fortunately, British spaces have sprung up to include100 Black Men of London, Street Pastors, Black Fathers Support Group and Families Need Fathers.
Many fathers are hailing their anger at a ‘system’ which they believe favours mothers. However, the contradictory messages about gender roles in our society manifests toxically as we realise the gender templates don’t work. The irony is that motherhood in the west, where many black families reside, is borne out of patriarchy, ergo our template for growing boys for the mantle of fatherhood is proving to be damaging. Equally, the seeming ‘bondage’ of ‘perfection’ which surrounds motherhood leaves many women feeling trapped but unable to voice their feelings due to wider society’s deep-seated ideology around this institution. This is a contentious and mountainous subject to tackle, yet Aysha is defiant and is not for turning away…
“It takes someone to have that courage to break the cycle. Yeah it’s a very controversial subject. But at the end of the day as a community, especially as the black community, we need to look at our situation in front of us. What are we gonna do about it as a community? My heart used to wrench because there are good fathers around. I’ve lots of female members in my family and their partners are good, they’re around their children. So going through that time when my son’s father wasn’t around, to go to family events and everyone’s dad is there you do start to look into your child’s eyes and see that, ‘oh my god there’s something missing and they’re seeing this.’ I think it’s so important. It’s gonna strike a lot of stuff and it’s gonna bring up a lot of stuff. I’m ready to take it on.”
Absent is currently in the throes of an Indiegogo Campaign to raise funding for its completion. You can support and follow developments through this link as well as the social media handles below: