Big Mama (film)

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Big Mama
Directed by Tracy Seretean
Produced by Tracy Seretean
Music by Bobby McFerrin
Rob Mounsey
Cinematography Tamara Goldsworthy
Distributed by California Newsreel
Release date
  • 2000 (2000)
Running time
35 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Big Mama is a 2000 documentary film by Tracy Seretean. It chronicles the struggle of 89-year-old Viola Dees (1908-2000) and her fight to retain custody of her grandson. It illustrates many of the difficulties facing an increasing number of grandparents raising their grandchildren in the USA today. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject.[1]


The film follows 18 months in the life of Viola Dees (89 years old) as she tries to persuade Los Angeles authorities that she can care for her grandson, 9-year-old Walter. Born to a drug addicted mother, Walter was in foster care until Dees managed to get him released into her care at the age of four. He was a very disturbed child, traumatized by the death of his father and the disappearance of his mother, while still appearing bright and sweetly loving to his grandmother.

The film focuses on the continuous battle against age discrimination faced by Dees and many like her. While contending with her own declining health, and a bureaucratic and legal system that continually threatens to force them apart, Dees fights the misconception that age supersedes one's ability to love and care for a child.

The film continues to follow the family when life deals them several blows. Dees suffers a heart attack, provoking hostile and disturbed behavior from Walter who burns their house down when he sets a magazine ablaze in his room. When Walter is admitted to a psychiatric hospital, the doctors determine that Dees is no longer able to handle her grandson, and will not release him to her until she agrees to place him in long-term residential care. After a challenging search, Walter is accepted at an appropriate facility and thrives during his year there. However, when treatment is completed, social workers determine that Dees is too frail to care for him, and Walter is placed in a foster home. Walter's aunts and uncles are unable to take him in, possibly because they feel unqualified to deal with his often threatening and troubled behavior.

Awards and nominations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NY Times: Big Mama". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 

External links[edit]