Diane Hazzard was a loving mother, but like other young, inner city African Americans in the 1980s, she was swept up in the crack cocaine epidemic. Inevitably, her parenting suffered with her addiction, until her own daughter, Love, only eight years old, told a teacher that she and her five siblings were often left home alone and hungry. As revealed in Love & Diane, a remarkable documentary feature having its national broadcast premiere on public television’s POV series, Love’s action set in motion the often unforgiving machinery of the child-welfare system. It also brought a legacy of abandonment, hurt and shame that haunts mother and daughter to this day— and which, most chillingly, threatens Love’s relationship with her own baby boy, Donyaeh.
Love Hinson (back) and Diane Hazzard (front).
“Cycle of poverty” is a term more used than understood. Love & Diane puts a human face on it, delivering an intimate portrait of one family’s struggles with poverty, addiction, and broken homes. Told vérité-style, without narration or expert “talking heads,” the film is also a story of redemption, as a mother and daughter strive to understand each other and make a better life for themselves.
Love & Diane picks up on the Hazzard family in Brooklyn, New York, ten years after Love’s fateful revelation to her teacher. For six of those ten years, the Hazzard children, of whom Love is the oldest, had been shuttled separately through the foster-care system. Then, against all odds, the family had reunited—thanks to Diane’s daunting but ultimately successful fight to kick drugs and prove to the child-welfare bureaucracy that she was fit to be a mother. They had all dreamed of their reunion, but when it came, it wasn’t as they had imagined.
The family’s happiness was tempered by feelings of estrangement. Years of separation—gaps in the children’s formative years that Diane could never recover — left the children feeling they hardly knew their mother or each other. Most traumatically, Diane soon finds herself confronting a tragic reminder of her troubled past — Love is now 18, HIV-positive, and a new single mother who is increasingly neglectful of her baby.
Consumed by guilt, Diane, who was herself abandoned as a child, throws her religious faith and considerable determination into creating and sustaining a home for the family. But Love is torn between her own feelings of guilt for the family’s breakup, a barely contained rage at her mother, and ambivalent feelings toward her infant son. Donyaeh has come into the world burdened not only with the family’s hopes but with the consequences of its past. It will be months before the child’s HIV status is known for sure. Love, meanwhile, incapacitated by her emotions, begins neglecting her maternal duties.
Diane, already supporting a home for her other children, does her best to create a loving and positive environment for Donyaeh. But she fears that Love really is incapable of caring for the child and, in a fateful turn, Diane confides her fears to a therapist. Suddenly, the police are at the door. Donyaeh is taken from Love. Love now faces the same ordeal her mother had faced years before. She must get her life together and prove to a well-intentioned but Byzantine system of social workers, therapists and prosecutors that she can be a fit mother. She must also face the anger and shame that has led her into making her mother’s story her own.
In the course of telling its story, Love & Diane reveals a contentious child-welfare system whose sanctions sometimes hurt the very women and children they are supposed to protect. But the film also reveals the resilience and courage of these same women in fighting to rescue themselves and their children from the wasted poverty zones of America’s cities. Ultimately uplifting, Love & Diane is a real-life triumph of the spirit and a profoundly moving portrait of a family surviving in spite of insurmountable odds.
There are no easy answers in Love & Diane. In Diane’s heroic rise and Love’s terrible descent—and in their conflicted relationship and universal need for forgiveness —there are equal doses of hope and despair. Dworkin’s close relationship with the Hazzard family, some of whom she met while a volunteer in a Harlem homeless shelter, gives “Love & Diane” the riveting, epic sweep of classic cinéma vérité documentaries.
“This is not the kind of film that anyone could have made quickly,” says Dworkin, who spent the better part of ten years making “Love & Diane.” “This is a film that resulted from a long relationship and a good deal of trust between me and the Hazzard family.
It’s also a film that was very much shaped by Love and Diane themselves, because they knew how they wanted to talk about their lives and they have a coherent vision of their lives—more coherent than most people. They are also very expressive, which is one of the qualities that drew me to their story.”
Find out more about Love and Diane at Jennifer Dworkin’s website: http://www.wmm.com/loveanddiane