How did you come across the Hogans’ story? What about Dee’s Tots made you want to make a film about Deloris and Patrick?
One day I was browsing through an online mothers’ group that I am a part of and I came across an article about the daycare at the heart of our film. I quickly became obsessed with the idea of making a documentary about the community described in the article because what I read was so similar to my own experience, my mother’s and that of so many other working-class Black and Latinx women that I know.
My mother raised four kids in New York City working the night shift, making minimum wage. She was a home health aide who was overworked and underpaid. While her experience is shared by so many women in our communities, their stories are invisible in the mainstream. I wanted to create a portrait of their everyday lives.
I was inspired by the stories of our protagonists, my mother’s story and my own. I wanted to shine a light on the many systemic problems in our society, but I was most interested in lifting up the networks of care that women of color create in the face of unspeakable violence.
It took me two years to work up the courage to cold call the daycare center. I finally did and at our first meeting, Deloris agreed to participate and told me time and time again how comfortable she felt with me and that, even though we had just met, she felt like she knew me. She said “I know you get it and I want to make this film with you.”
Over the past year or so, the term “essential workers” has gained a new significance as the as the pandemic has exposed the precarity of so many working peoples’ livelihoods and the crucial role they play in the economy. Wow do you understand your film’s importance in light of the events of the past year?
Everyone in the film is an essential worker. Shanona is a pediatric ER nurse who has been on the literal front line of the entire pandemic; Marisol has been working 6-7 days a week making sure our supermarket shelves are fully stocked; and Nunu and Patrick never closed their doors precisely because so many of their parents are essential workers. Right now, mothers of color are grieving the loss of loved ones, struggling to pay bills, facing unemployment, homeschooling their children, or making the impossible choice of leaving young children with older children to go out and clean our public transportation systems and hospitals and care for our elders and children.
Nunu told us "We are staying open until they shut us down because our parents need us. It is a little bit scary because every person who walks in could bring in COVID-19.” As the crisis wears on, their financial model has collapsed because enrollment is down. They have been forced to deplete their savings in order to keep staff employed and keep the lights on. Childcare providers already operated on very thin margins and the pandemic has decimated them financially. It is estimated that over 1 in 4 child-care providers nationwide still remain closed https://cnb.cx/34Wdl4V. It is critical that we care for the people who care for all of us. If we don’t, there will be no recovery, no way forward for the United States.
A phrase that comes to mind when watching Through the Night is “it takes a village,” especially with regards to childcare -- how do you understand the role of the community in the context of caregiving?
One of my biggest realizations in making Through the Night is that Nunu, Patrick, and their family have, in essence, been providing the social safety net to working families that the U.S. government tells us is impossible to provide. Over the course of four years, I watched them, the families they serve, and the children they care for stand in every imaginable gap on behalf of each other. I see them as our real leaders and the actual experts who could help us figure out a more just and humane way of life.
More and more people in the U.S. now work one and a quarter jobs. Many of those jobs require non-standard hours including late-night and early-morning shifts. The national debate about the challenges facing working class people in this country is still dominated by the narratives of white men working in industries such as coal mining and manufacturing. While those stories are no doubt important, the conversation is woefully incomplete because women are already nearly half of the U.S. workforce.
In nearly half the country, it costs more to send a 3 year old to daycare than it does to send an 18 year old to a state college. Not only is childcare expensive, but for Americans working multiple jobs or irregular hours, it can be difficult to find care at all. This spurs a set of impossible decisions that parents, and single mothers in particular, must make every day.
The irony is that, while childcare is unaffordable for most, providers themselves can barely make ends meet. The overwhelming majority of home based child-care providers are women of color and immigrants whose income is far less than the median in other lines of work. As one interviewee told me, “there have never been decent jobs in this sector because it’s women’s work. It’s caretaking work. Our society doesn’t value that as a whole.”
We have the opportunity to strengthen our communities and our movements by centering the radical imagination of the people who take care of us all.
Through the Night captures the rich textures of the protagonists' lives -- their struggles and their joys -- why did you feel it was so important to emphasize both?
On our very first day of production, I witnessed a toddler clumsily climb into a chair and nestle himself underneath his mother’s arm. His mother—without even looking at him—reached into her purse, pulled out a small bottle of lotion, and began rubbing his little legs and feet. The moment was deeply tender, intimate, and so ‘routine’ that nobody else noticed it. For me, it was the moment I realized that tenderness would be both the politic of Through the Night and its aesthetic.
Documentaries are known for their in depth examinations of the human condition. Often that means dedicating years to stories that reveal deep injustices in our world. Many documentaries follow everyday people in order to put a “human face on a social problem.” This is probably done with the best of intentions. The goal is to make abstract social structures visible. The unintended consequence, however, is that poor and working class Black, Indigenous, and people of color get reduced to our oppression.
Our bodies become the site of everything that is wrong in society. Every story is about the criminal justice system that incarcerates us, the educational system that fails us, the police officers who kill us. Our stories only matter when we are in an acute crisis. There is nothing in between. No everyday life. No feelings. No humor, doubts, or poetry. No hopes, fears, or dreams. Our whole existence is tied to a struggle which ultimately strips us of our complexity, our humanity. Dehumanization creates the conditions that make real world violence possible. And while the violence we suffer is undeniable, we are more than what ails and kills us.
That’s why I made Through the Night, a cinema vérité portrait of three working mothers whose lives intersect at a 24-hour daycare center: a mother working the overnight shift as an essential worker at a hospital, another holding down three jobs just to support her family, and a woman who, for over two decades, has cared for the children of parents with nowhere else to turn. The film is unapologetically subtle, it is intimate, it dwells in the day-to-day. There are no spectacles, no statistics, no outside experts.
I wanted to offer the people in my film something they rarely get: a patient and curious gaze that illuminates who they are and how they feel — not just what they’re going through.
Have the Hogans’ seen the film? What was their reaction?
Yes. They are very proud of the film and keep up to date on all the film’s events. They’ve participated in numerous Q&As. One of Deloris’ wishes is to change legislation in regards to government oversight on daycares. We’ve already had two screenings with local New York legislators and hope to get Deloris to Washington, D.C.
Several months ago, they were featured as the Doc Stars of the Month by the IDA Magazine. In their interview, Nunu said, “Actually, it let me see myself. You never really see who and what you are because you’re so busy. I actually got a chance to see myself as a person.”
What are you working on next?
Honestly, I’m trying to figure out how to keep making films while being the best parent I can be to my little people. I have a few ideas that are in early stages but it’s safe to say, I probably have another few films in me about mothering, race, labor, and class.