By C.J. Hirschfield
Shanona Tate is one of the frontline workers we have come to revere as of late—a pediatric emergency room nurse who works the overnight shift at a New York hospital. We can bang pots and pans to acknowledge her service and that of other employees within essential industries who must physically show up to their jobs—at whatever hour–but until we really see the economic and psychic toll it takes we can’t begin to understand how our current system is not working for them.
The exceptional new verité documentary Through the Night, by first-time feature director Loira Limbal, centers on a 24-hour New York childcare center that is indispensable to Tate and other night-shift workers and single parents who rely on them to make their lives and families function. The work is unending, but we see how it is done with grace and love.
Dee’s Tots is actually run out of a cheery and comfortable house by Delores “Nunu” Hogan and her husband, Patrick “Pop Pop” Hogan. The children they serve (up to 16 at a time) range in age from six weeks to 12 years. “My days are always long,” says Nunu, who’s been doing this work for 22 years. “It’s not just a job, it really is our life.”
The film focuses on Tate, as well as Marisol Valencia, a mother who holds three jobs. And then there’s Nunu herself, whose own kids have had to share their parents—24 hours a day–since they were toddlers. Nunu and Pop Pop both project a calm strength, while keeping a sense of humor and whimsy. All of the kids clearly adore them.
Think of all the things a 24-hour caregiver has to do that traditional child care centers don’t: Cook three meals a day, braid hair, oversee tooth-brushing, change diapers. The work, although performed with good cheer, never ends.
The all-consuming nature of the vocation has affected the couples’ relationship. We don’t get to spend time together, to travel,” says Nunu. “That part makes me kinda sad.” But they wake up every day and do it all again; every day.
The reason why is answered succinctly by Marisol, who works three low-paying jobs, and still can’t afford health insurance. “If I didn’t have Nunu, what would I do?” We can feel the poignancy when Shanona calls from the hospital to say goodnight to her two children, and wonder how many options she has for overnight childcare.
To get us outside of the confines of the albeit warm and friendly house, the filmmaker has injected lovely shots of nature in the neighborhood, as well as delightful scenes of Nunu in her garden, where kids enjoy themselves while learning how things grow.
Toward the end of the film, Nunu experiences a health crisis, which obviously has a ripple effect on all of the parents and kids she serves.
As we observe how hard these mothers have to work just to just survive, we have to ask—as many are, during the pandemic– why is the system not working for everyone, particularly for low-salaried essential workers like nursing home caregivers and preschool teachers?
Through the Night offers no tidy ending, no preaching, no politics; just love. But the issues of racism, sexism and capitalism are nonetheless brought to the fore as we observe just how difficult “women’s work” really is in this society–and how we can’t function without it.
The film begins with a quote by writer Hisham Matar: “I suppose that is what we want from our mothers, to maintain the world and, even if it is a lie, to proceed as though the world could be maintained.”
Through the Night can be seen at home via Virtual Cinema benefitting your choice of independent cinemas.
If you’d like to know more, the film’s makers have provided a terrific Resources Guide to videos and readings here.
Director/Producer Loira Limbal currently serves as the Senior Vice President for Programs for Firelight Media. Limbal is an Afro-Latinx filmmaker and DJ interested in the creation of art that is nuanced, revelatory and affirming for communities of color. She has worked at various community-based organizations in New York City including The Point Community Development Corporation, The Dominican Women’s Development Center, and Sista II Sista. In 2006, she founded The Reel X Project, a social justice and creative filmmaking space for young women of color in the Bronx. Her first film, Estilo Hip Hop, was a co-production of ITVS, aired on PBS in 2009 and is available at Amazon and iTunes.
As DJ Laylo, she co-produces and helms the popular monthly #APartyCalledRosiePerez. Limbal received a B.A. in History from Brown University and is a graduate of the Third World Newsreel’s Film and Video Production Training Program. She is a Sundance Institute Time Warner fellow and a former Ford Foundation Justfilms/Rockwood fellow. She lives in the Bronx with her two children. She can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Kiki Martinez interviewed Limbal for REMEXCLA
Art Works Podcast: Loira Limbal, Documentary Filmmaker
C.J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry where she produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel and advocated on behalf of the industry. A former writer for Film Month, she also penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years and now writes features and reviews for EatDrinkFilms. C.J. holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.
Hirschfield currently serves on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film series showing free documentaries in Oakland and Piedmont, as well as on the advisory board of Youth Beat, a youth media training program that provides low-income Oakland students with the tools and opportunities they need to thrive in today’s workforce.
C.J. says, “A good documentary takes us places we never could never have imagined, and changes the way we see the world.”