‘I have not seen my children in 7 years’ – says filmmaker Nware Burge as he releases new documentary ‘For Mothers who won’t let Fathers see their Children’

Newark filmmaker and college professor Nware Burge. Photo: Instagram/Nware Burge

“Since the 1960s and some say as far back as the 1940s, government systems in the United States have in many ways, been complicit in removing the Black father from the home,” college professor and filmmaker Nware Burge says as he releases his new documentary titled “For Mothers who won’t let Fathers see their Children”.

It is an all women’s response to mothers as well as court systems directly affecting father’s visitation rights and direct positive relationships with their children. Newark-based filmmaker Burge says he got attached to the project because many Black fathers like himself have had difficulty over the years gaining access and visitation to their children after divorce or separation from their spouse. 

“I applied for a Grant to fund another project that I am currently working on. When I was not offered the Grant, I tried to think hard about a project that would not require as much funding,” Burge tells Face2Face Africa.

“Another factor was that over several weeks prior, on social media, I happened to come across a variety of different Black women who were speaking out against mothers who do not allow their fathers to see their children. It then gave me the idea that, as a single man, I dated a single woman that had children and through conversations I asked if the father was in their lives. I was told no. I then asked if he had some sort of criminal background or was violent or aggressive. I was told no again. I then asked, ‘Does he want to see them or attempt to see them?’ I was told yes, but that she would not allow for him to see them because he has a new woman and a new life. I stated that this has nothing to do with his relationship. These 3 events sparked the idea in my head that this story regarding Parental Alienation against the fathers should be told.”

According to the African-American teacher, many fathers in America and some other countries are isolated from their children by the court system and the mother. He says once this occurs, fathers are often isolated by a term called PARENTAL ALIENATION and labeled as deadbeat fathers.

“Yes, there are fathers who do not claim their children or want nothing to do with them. This is not the majority of Black Fathers. Most fathers, and more specifically Black fathers are fighting for custody and visitation,” says Burge, who adds that he has not seen his children in seven years. “I’ve been going back and forth to Child Court for more than 18 years. After not having positive results I eventually refused to ever go back to court ever again unless I am forced or dragged.”

Indeed, since the 1960s, there has been a rise in the number of children living with a single parent. This has been largely due to an increase in births to unmarried women and the increasing rate of divorces among couples. Statistics show that in 2023, about 15 million children were living with a single mother in the United States.

Burge believes that some women use the abuse narrative and false allegations as a strategy in child custody. He says that in America “PARENTAL ALIENTATION” is the story regarding fathers and custody that has not been told.

In his documentary, women including attorney Janelle Colbert and author Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. will discuss and examine women’s role in the matter or the role they have experienced other women take part in this matter.

“More so to make a positive argument and narrative regarding the importance of having the Father or man in the household and directly in the child’s life in any capacity,” says Burge.

This is his first completely independent project and he is currently working on several projects that speak to Black issues. His earlier documentary titled: DNA: Using genealogy to change my (slave) last name won the best documentary award at the Black Star International Film Festival held in Ghana’s capital Accra in 2018.

Burge speaks with Face2Face Africa about his new documentary being released this Father’s Day:

How did you get attached to the project in the first place?

I got attached to the project because many Black Fathers like myself have had difficulty over the years gaining access and visitation of their children, if they became divorced or separated from their spouse. Because of the stereotypical media of Black men in America, men are often accused of being deadbeat dads or violent towards women and children. Violence towards women happens in America and it is one of the worst crimes here in the States and it needs to be put to an end immediately. Black men who get partial custody of their children or do not get to see their children at all is a different matter or topic. Attorney Janelle Colbert, a female father’s advocate attorney, eloquently states in my documentary film, that there are some women who use the abuse narrative and use false allegations as a strategy in child custody.

What is it that made you want to make this documentary?

There were several factors that made me want to do this documentary. I applied for a Grant to fund another project that I am currently working on. When I was not offered the Grant, I tried to think hard about a project that would not require as much funding. Another factor was that over several weeks prior, on social media, I happened to come across a variety of different Black women who were speaking out against mothers who do not allow their fathers to see their children. It then gave me the idea that, as a single man, I dated a single woman that had children and through conversations I asked if the father was in their lives. I was told no. I then asked if he had some sort of criminal background or was violent or aggressive. I was told no again. I then asked, “Does he want to see them or attempt to see them?” I was told yes, but that she would not allow for him to see them because he has a new woman and a new life. I stated that this has nothing to do with his relationship. These 3 events sparked the idea in my head that this story regarding Parental Alienation against the fathers should be told.

Why is this topic important and why did you think it needed to be told in a documentary? 

The topic is important because in America “PARENTAL ALIENTATION” is the story regarding fathers and custody that has not been told. The only narrative regarding fathers and custody, specifically Black fathers, is that they are considered to be deadbeat dads. The popular rap artist Busta Rhymes along with female rapper Rapsody have a song titled, “BEST I CAN” where Rapsody raps about all of the wrong decisions she makes as a woman in keeping her son from his father. 

 “BEST I CAN”  –  Song link :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPK6-Ox4u4

After hearing this song, it added to the need of why the story needed to be told. To add, the false allegations of physical abuse that is often a stigma that is attached to both Black and Latino men is also significant.  Because there are abusive men that are violent towards women and children, the mothers often use it as leverage in a court system that already stereotypes Black men. Fathers abusing women and children is not the majority. I cannot stress that enough.  A documentary featuring all women speaking on this topic, I felt would be the best way to discuss this matter. Many fathers in America and some other countries are isolated from their children by the court system and the mother. Once this occurs fathers are many times isolated by a term called PARENTAL ALIENATION then labelled as deadbeat fathers. Yes, there are fathers who do not claim their children or want nothing to do with them. This is not the majority of Black Fathers. Most fathers, and more specifically Black fathers are fighting for custody and visitation. Recently Oprah Winfrey began to advocate  for Black fathers to dispel the myth of the Dead-Beat Dad. She has had several shows and articles written regarding changing the narrative of this topic.

How widespread is this issue/phenomenon in the U.S.?

Since the 1960’s and some say as far back as the 1940’s, government systems in the United States have in many ways, been complicit in removing the Black father from the home.  For example, specifically in New York City the “Man in the House Rule” in which a child who otherwise qualified for welfare benefits was denied those benefits if the child’s mother was living with or having relations with any single or married able bodied male. A film released in 1974 titled ‘Claudine’, starring legendary African American actor and actress James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll gives an accurate account of the United States welfare system giving aid to mothers only if the father is not present. In the much-heralded T.V. show titled ‘Good Times’, lead actress Esther Rolle, who played ‘Florida’, the mother and wife of James (John Amos), often openly and publicly voiced the importance of a father being present in the family show when producers were reluctant to create the father character in the sitcom. Esther Rolle clearly understood the importance of the Father figure being present in the household as it applies to urban Black America and the imagery of the Black American family.

Even today as such prominent people as Oprah Winfrey, whom I referenced earlier, attempt to dispel the myth of the Dead-Beat dad. But through the media, the damage has been done. It has been statistically stated that in America, Black fathers have been the leading ethnic group that cares for their child or children in a myriad of ways. But many in America and around the world seem to rather be more comfortable and satisfied with the label of Black fathers being Dead-Beat dads. Nor does the public know or understand the level and severity by which the court systems and how the mothers play a vital and pivotal role in keeping the fathers away from their child or children. I would be remised if I did not mention emotionally troubled fathers who have been separated from their families based off of violence, domestic abuse, etc. To add throughout the documentary film, the all women cast constantly reiterate that men who are violent towards women, is a minor percentage demographic of Black men that they are speaking of. The cast consistently reiterates that they are speaking about the majority of Black men who want to see their children or are in court fighting for visitation and custody and continue to get negative results.

The documentary features interviews with several personalities including Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. How did they get involved with the project

As I mentioned earlier, I had often heard women on social media, podcasts and YouTube channels speak out openly and candidly about mothers who won’t let fathers see their children. Hence this is the title of the film.

I’ve heard them make many critical points about who keeping the fathers away from their children, when they are not a threat to the child or the family, is a contributing factor of the destruction of the Black family. I interviewed more that 15 women but due to editing only 8 were actually put into the documentary. Dr. Evandra Catherine does a great job in expressing how many celebrities as well as common men are automatically put on child support regardless if he is one thousand percent in the child’s life. 

I was also blessed enough to be granted interviews by several of the women who I have heard and seen, speak out on this topic. Theresa the S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. a Grammy nominated poet, who’s performed on a multitude of major platforms, recited a poem titled, “You So Black” for the 2019 Trumpet Awards that went viral and is still a circulating on a multitude of social media platforms. Theresa became involved in the project when my mentor Brother Larry Patterson, scrolled down on his cellphone a bit after watching Theresa’s “You So Black” poem on YouTube. He immediately clicked onto another poem and Theresa’s subject matter was regarding mothers manipulating the father and his relationship and visitation with his children. Since he knew that I was working on this subject as part of my documentary, he immediately forwarded the video and the rest is history. Theresa the S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. closes out the documentary with the poem. (Spoiler Alert!!!)  Love Dorsey who has a large social media following and has often spoken out on the topic as well as Goddess Aayanna, who also has a significant social media following. Both of whom make great points in the documentary film. But having attorneys who advocate for fathers gaining custody of their children is extremely important to the film. Attorneys Janelle Colbert of Colbert Law Firm and Attorney Stephanie Burgess of Burgess Law Group both give their expertise on their personal experiences within their law practice of advocating for Black fathers’ rights of their child or children. Attorney Colbert adamantly points out that fathers who don’t get fair treatment as it applies to custody of their children is a Civil Rights issue. Attorney Colbert stresses the point that fathers must “Legitimate their child” to gain fair access. A more controversial issue that Attorney Burgess raises is the fact that many fathers are denied access from their children by the mother if they get separated or divorced and the father gets remarried or starts another relationship.

Talk to us about the pre-production, filming, editing, and how long it took to finish the project. 

Pre-production and filming were not difficult in that so many people tell the story of a Father who wants to see his kids but can’t. When I give people the title of the documentary, “For Mothers who won’t let Fathers see their Children”, many tend to go directly into a story about someone they know who is currently dealing with this situation or has dealt with it in the past. So, with the women knowing the title, they were able to just speak on a personal story or a story about someone else they know who is dealing with this issue. So, pre-production and filming was not difficult. The editing is what posed the biggest challenge because so many of the women I interviewed had interesting stories. So, I had to listen closely and edit a cohesive narrative. There were many stories that were left out.  There are many women who had stories about their family or friend but opted out due to obvious reasons of exposing their personal information. 

Were there any challenges while producing that you had to deal with?

Yes. This is my first completely independent project. I directed, produced, and edited the film without a team. Also, I funded this product without any grants or investors. I am looking to gain donors and economic funding.

To add I am currently a College Professor as well as a High School History and Special Education Teacher. It was very challenging to finish the entire project while working as an educator. As an educator you have to complete administrative work daily.  I could only edit on evenings, weekends, or holidays. Other challenges were attempting to contact the rap artist Rapsody as well as some other notable women such as Shaharazad Ali, to be interviewed alongside the great women with whom are already in the film.

Did you learn anything that surprised you about the topic while making the documentary?

What I learned that surprised me about making the documentary about the topic of Mothers who won’t let Fathers see their Children, is its synchronicity to those who feel that racism does not exist in society. What I mean by this is that racism does not end unless the people who project it do not continue racial, bias and prejudice behaviors. It is the same as Black Fathers seeking full custody or balanced visitation of their children. Whoever has the power dictates the parameters of engagement. 

I’ve also found that there are those who are more comfortable with the Dead-Beat Dad narrative. So much so that even if you share that it is a stereotype and not the majority, many will push back to maintain the status quo and stereotype. Again, this is synonymous with racism towards Blacks in America and all over. There are thousands of upwardly mobile and successful Black people who are Lawyer, Doctors, Scholars, Entertainers, Artisans, Inventors and on and on, but many continue to look at Black people within the confinement of the stereotypes that they see on social media and television.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I will be following up with an all-fathers account and then and all children’s account of this very topic.  Fathers will speak on the trials and tribulations of wanting to see their children and the emotions of being kept away by the mother and the court systems as well as children or adults speaking on how they have been purposely kept away from their father. To add, I open up with a brief narrative about my personal story of Parental Alienation with my children.

What’s next for you?

Right now I am currently working on several projects that speak to Black issues. I mentioned the documentary film “Black Beaches” that I have been working on for several years now. It is a discussion and narrative built around eminent domain, gentrification and land grab post slavery, Jim Crow, up to today. DNA part 2 “The New Great Migration” will focus on repatriation of Blacks to Africa specifically Caribbeans and African Americans. I am developing a platform around the so-called “Diaspora Wars” between African Americans and Africans which I totally feel is self-defeating. The platform will discuss the positives and negative stereotypes within the diaspora.  Discussions around Black African American Southern cuisine and jollof rice wars within African countries, the meanings of ethnic group names, and so many other topics.  I will give you all the details for our next interview as soon as my current project “For Mothers who won’t let Fathers see their Children”, is up and moving.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 14, 2024

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