The documentary "Love and Diane" takes a clear-eyed look at the struggles of a Brooklyn family trying to break the cycles of neglect, drugs, and poverty with sometimes surprising results.
By JOSHUA TANZER
You might make a thousand observations while watching "Love and Diane," a documentary about a poor and troubled family in Flatbush, Brooklyn, but the first thing to notice is the cycles that spin through generation after generation of the family's life.
Diane Hazzard is a 41-year-old mother of six (five since the suicide of her oldest and most capable child, Charles) who now openly admits she was a terrible mother during her long years as a crack addict. All her children were taken away after her daughter Love gave her up to authorities while in grade school. Love recalls how it started when she was caught moping in the hallway instead of going to class.
|LOVE AND DIANE|
|Directed by: Jennifer Dworkin.|
Cast: Love Hinson, Donyaeh Hinson, Diane Hazzard, Trenise Arnold, Morean Arnold, Willie Hazzard, Courtney White, Tameka Arnold, Lauren Shapiro, Antonia Diaz, Charles Modiano.
Cinematography: Tsuyoshi Kimoto.
209 West Houston St.
"They asked me if I ate home. I said I didn't eat home and I'm hungry and my mother's doing drugs. They didn't even ask me," she says. "I just said it."
She still feels guilt over it. Thus began a six-year odyssey of foster homes, running away, biding time in a group home and attempting suicide before the mother and children were reunited, more scarred than before.
That's not where the cycle began, nor where it ended. Diane recalls her own mother this way:|
"The first time I saw my mother I was about four or five. The second time I saw my mother, some friends brought her from the bar and she was pissy drunk. The third time, she was in a casket."
And although Love doesn't seem to have a serious drug problem, she does have a newborn baby boy, Donyaeh, who could well continue the cycle of neglect. Early in the movie, the 18-year-old mom holds the baby and boasts of her basically narcissistic reasons for having him. Meanwhile, Diane worries: "I thought she had the mother instinct where she would just fall into place with the responsibilities and stuff, but she's not. She's slacking now." So, like the grandmother who raised her, the cleaned-up former addict is the one taking responsibility for her grandson. The cycle continues.
The other thing to watch for during the film's two and a half hours is how the family interacts with the system, and vice versa. Especially in the first hour, it's obvious that the young Love is poorly prepared for life much less motherhood, but we can imagine that the family together will find the resources to raise little Donyaeh. Diane, for the first time in her life, seems ready to get her life in order, and her oldest daughter, Tameka, is a great help.
But social workers quickly start disrupting this family in order to save it. The first shock comes when Love throws a temper tantrum and the state takes away her baby. Officials decide to let Tameka care for him, but won't let her live with Love or Diane. Several more times, the family is split up in different configurations, all in the name of satisfying government dictates that don't really take into account the family's actual dynamics. Finally the baby is taken away altogether, to the family's shock. For several of these women, their chance to prove that they could do the job right was taken away before they even did anything wrong. The system seems distant, bureaucratic and unjust.
The rest of the movie shows a year in Love and Diane's struggle to jump through enough hoops to get their baby back, while Donyaeh is placed in a foster home. Interestingly, by the end of this time, everyone in the family seems more together than a year earlier. Diane has become the star student at a publicly funded job training program and is well on her way to getting her first real job. (I'm reminded of the mother in "Hoop Dreams" who, while the focus is on the boys' nebulous dreams of basketball stardom, is the only one doing things right, quietly but doggedly learning to be a nurse.)|
And with help from many firm but supportive public servants, especially her legal-services lawyer Lauren Shapiro, Love emerges from her traumatic year looking like a much more responsible mother than she would have been without pressure from the state. Maybe the system, which looked all wrong at first, actually worked. The film is a complicated portrait, and you have to draw your own conclusions from watching it, but it offers a lot of surprising clues about what's right and what's wrong in our city's poor families and in the way we as a society deal with them.
|APRIL 16, 2003|
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