Dear Daughter

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An intimate exploration of a deeply ambivalent mother-daughter relationship

Shortly after she relocates to the UK, the director Yuqi Tang receives a voice message from her estranged mother in China. To make sense of why her mother become the woman she is, the filmmaker starts to record their conversations. She asks, tentatively, “What were you like before you had me?”

After a long pause, her mother replies, “Happy.” Their difficult past unfolds gradually with each call. The mother recounts her carefree childhood, college years, unexpected pregnancy, abusive marriage, mistakes, regrets, hopes...

Dear Daughter takes us on a personal yet universal journey into mother-daughter relationships—sometimes frustrating, sometimes loving, and almost always, ambivalent.

'Dear Daughter started on a Friday night when I got frustrated with no good ideas and opened Netflix for inspiration', says Yuqi Tang. 'A conversation in Lady Bird struck me deep. In the fitting room, Lady Bird asks her mother, Marion, “do you like me?” Marion, however, freezes, and then says, “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be,” to which Lady Bird responds, “what if this is the best version?” This scene reminds me so much of my strained relationship with my mother, whom I have not seen for two years due to the pandemic. My last visual memory of her was when she waved me goodbye at the airport with tears in her eyes. I, on the other hand, was secretly relieved.'

She continues: 'Growing up in a traditional Chinese family, my mother has always been the authoritarian parent to me. As I was approaching 24—the age when she had me, I find myself constantly wondering what kind of person she was. So, with a vague idea, a lot of questions, and some unknown fear in mind, I called her and pressed record. We talked for hours, days, and weeks, more than we have ever talked over the past two years. Unsurprisingly, making this film has been therapeutic for both of us, and I hope watching it can also be healing for you. Although initially I only documented our conversations in case it might be useful, as the film developed, something about my mother’s voice on the phone—whether it be the intimacy and candidness, or the distance and disconnections—appealed to me. From that point on, it was clear the story is the phone calls. Seven conversations eventually made it to the film, telling a relatable story of a woman who was pushed into motherhood and made mistakes along the way. In the meantime, I was committed to creating a visual narrative that could enrich my storytelling. Every shot is meticulously composed to communicate a sense of either alienation, or nostalgia, or connection, depending on the narrative. Watery spaces became a crucial motif throughout the film, as I associate my mother strongly with water. This is in part because her last name literally means water, and perhaps more importantly, because like the ocean that is simultaneously engulfing and nurturing, so was our relationship. My film takes direct inspiration from a rich body of documentaries that centre on family and history, including Chantal Akerman’s News from Home (1977), Alan Berliner’s Nobody’s Business (1996), Alina Marazzi’s For One More Hour with You (2002), Mati Diop’s In My Room (2020) and Catarina Vasconcelos’s The Metamorphosis of Birds (2020). Not unlike those films, though intensely personal, Dear Daughter is intended to carry universal resonance. It is not merely about my mother and me, it is about all mothers and daughters, about the shared human experience of love, loneliness, family, and memory. My mother was scared to watch the film at first, but eventually, she did, cried, and loved it. That is success enough for me.'


Yuqi Tang @yuqiiitang