SVA Film & Animation

Faculty Blog: Sherese Robinson-Lee

Screenwriter Sherese Robinson-Lee was the valedictorian of 2500 BFAs when she graduated from SVA Film. If you saw her commanding the stage at Avery Fisher Hall, you might not have guessed where her journey started: She entered college at 18 with two children. Now, she’s telling her story — so more young people will know their stories matter, too. 

#BlackGirlsMatter #StandingUpForMom #HerDreamDeferred

Truth In Reality ‏@TruthInReality_ 

What if instead of shaming & demonizing poor Black mothers & exploiting their pain, we shared stories that uplifted them? #HerDreamDeferred

I saw this question on Twitter and I was inspired to answer it, by telling my story as a single mother and film student.

Darren Shui Sang & Reggie

Sherese’s three boys, Darren, Shui Sang, & Reggie.

I was resistant to speaking about my time as a single mother in film school, because I felt caught between shame and respectability politics—a brick wall and a Mack truck.

And, yes. I was on welfare. Welfare. Welfare. Welfare. And, not just welfare. The social programs that I was fortunate enough to have received at one point or another are: WIC, Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8, and HEAP. However, I was not eligible to receive to receive childcare financial assistance because I attended a 4-year college. The state wants you off welfare, but they don’t want you to have equal economic opportunity and that high wage job that comes with a shiny certificate.

I do feel shame that I was a teenage mom to two babies. I feel shame that I had to depend on state services to provide for them. I feel shame that my children deserved better in life—better schooling, better housing, better mothering. I feel shame that I didn’t give up my dreams for them.

I love my boys very much, but I was at best an average mother—not terrible but also not terribly good. Besides the sheer stupidity of not using birth control, I thought a baby would make me feel loved. That a baby would make my life better. Instead, I made my babies’ lives worse.

Brittany & Christopher 1

A still from Sherese’s short film.

Now, I can certainly brag about my 3.8 GPA, graduating valedictorian, and attending an Ivy-league grad school with a hand baby and a toddler. That the toddler has a body of an African god sculpted out of amber marble, and is an in-demand fitness trainer. Or, that the hand baby is one of the most talented artists and nicest people that I know. But, honestly I don’t want to because it feels too much like f-ed up respectability politics. And, yet I just did. Having degrees, a “status” job and good kids that I didn’t break has led to praise. Backhanded praise. I refuse praise for doing the things that I did well because it goes against hateful stereotypes. I’m okay with being a stereotype. I’m not going to be used as a weapon in the war against Black single mothers.

A Black single mother is…. human. I’m human. I’m Rebecca in Sounder (1972), Claudine (1974), and Ronnie in Menace to Society (1993), and Mace in Strange Days (1995). And, although Hollywood movies do not include me as a “real mother,” and often pathologizes Black motherhood, I’m also Paula in The Goodbye Girl (1977), Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Dorothy in Jerry Maguire (1996) and Erin in Erin Brockovich (2000).

And, I happened to be producing an action film centering a Black single mother.


Filed Under: Faculty Blog

Mary Lee

Because I’ve known you a long, long time — and because I’m the mother of an adult child, too — I’m going to say that I think you are way too hard on yourself. You are a deeply empathetic, caring person, as this piece attests. You are passionate about justice, honesty and education. Love, kindness, and confidence shine in your three son’s’ eyes. But even if you had been as cold as Cruella DeVille, you still would have given your sons a great example of hard work, discipline, and never giving up on your dreams.

All — good –mothers know there are things they could have done better. Not unlike writers and filmmakers — after so much work, emotion, time, no matter how proud we are, we still see our mistakes — even if no one else does, .