To many people on the internet, actress Toni Collette is simply known as “mother.”
Ms. Collette has played more than her fair share of mothers throughout her career: a matriarch with dissociative identity disorder on the TV show “United States of Tara”; a miniaturist whose family is haunted after the death of her own mother in the movie “Hereditary”; and, most recently, an American mother accused of taking over her Italian family’s mafia business in the movie “Mafia Mamma.”
But Mrs. Collette is not necessarily called a mother to play fictional roles, or even to be a mother in real life. Instead, fans bestowed the title as a way to express their appreciation.
When fans call out for her mother, which they often do, “it feels like a well-meaning, collective, familial, warm hug,” Ms Collette said in an email. She’s just one of many female celebrities who, if they don’t fully understand the new usage of the word, might wonder why they suddenly have so many children.
The mother is everywhere. The slang term – with no article in front – is used by fans, brands and sometimes even mothers themselves. It derives from the black and Latino LGBTQ ballroom scene, a queer subculture in which members are organized into so-called houses often led by a “mother”. Current usage of the word, however, veers into campier and is mostly used as a term of endearment for famous women with avid devotees. Its popularity has precedent in the late 2010s, when apparently all male celebrities called themselves “dad,” a term used to describe handsome, older men.
But in 2023, dad died: Long live mom. Mom’s ballads raised you; the widely criticized performance of the mother brought you to life; and the mothering of the mother has mothered so hard that you have to show her the respect she deserves. For this, call his mother.
According to the internet, the mother is Mariah Carey, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Adele, K-pop group Blackpink and Diana, Princess of Wales. She is too Jennifer Lopez, who stars in the movie “The Mother” and was certainly a mother in the 2019 movie “Hustlers”; she is the character of Shiv Roy, played by Sarah Snook on the hit hit “Succession”; she is even Elkay Water Bottle Filling Stationwhich can save you from spending $5 on an overpriced bottle of water at the airport.
Who is and isn’t a mother is subjective, of course. Juan Camilo Velásquez, 30, a writer who lives in New York, considers Lana Del Rey his mother. “I think she’s an amazing singer and songwriter,” he said, adding that her music feels “timeless but very contemporary” to her.
But for Cameron Columbia, Mrs. Del Rey is not mother. “I would never hate anybody, but like, I never really got into Lana Del Rey,” said Mr. Columbia, 23, a college student from Long Island. “My lifelong mom would be Ariana Grande.”
Brandon Walker, 23, who works in insurance and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, said he calls the people mothers because of “how they’ve influenced the sphere of pop culture or how which they had an effect on me”. As a black gay boy growing up in the South, he felt mothers like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj helped him express himself.
“The mother is basically a female figure who raised you for a period of your life,” said Mr Walker, who also counts Ms Collette among his mothers. Calling a woman a mother is also a way to “pay tribute to them for the work they have done in their respective industries,” he said.
Mother dates back to the 1970s in New York’s ballroom scene, which was created in response to racism in the drag and pageant community. These spaces have often created surrogate family structures for marginalized LGBTQ people of color.
According to Sydney Baloue, a member of the House of Xtravaganza who writes a book on the history of the ballroom and vogue, “the first mother of the ballroom” was Crystal LaBeija. Many in the ballroom community say the current iteration of the scene began in 1972, he said, when Mrs. LaBeija helped found the first house, the LaBeija House.
Ms. LaBeija, a black drag performer and transgender woman, was the catalyst for our current cultural moment, according to Mr. Baloue, who was co-executive producer of the ballroom competition show “Legendary.” If you’re a mother, “you’re the one who’s won the most trophies, you’re the one who’s the most important member,” he said. “You also take care of the children a lot.”
The mother, who can be of any gender, “has come from those communities that have had to recreate or rethink what mothering and family really are” after being ostracized from their biological families, Marlon M. Bailey said. , professor of African and Afro-American sciences. studies at Washington University in St. Louis who wrote a book chronicling the ballroom culture in Detroit.
Ms Collette suspects a lack of maternal affection could be the reason her fans, many of whom are LGBTQ, call her mother. “I don’t want to dwell too much on such a sweet gesture, but it can also indicate a strong need for acceptance and love from parents,” she wrote. “Not everyone has had or has the healthiest relationship with their mother. After playing so many different women with children, I may have come to represent or fill a void in the social media of what so many people lack.
Still, she added, “It can also just be because of the ‘I’m your mother’ speech in ‘Hereditary’. It’s a ripper.
On “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, Mr. Baloue said, contestants “swallow anything in the ballroom”, repeat it and, in turn, popularize a word which “doesn’t always get across correctly”. RuPaul embraced the term when he released the song “Call Me Mother” in 2017. Viewers often hear the word and embrace it, whether or not they use the proper context.
Mr. Baloue thinks the term “mother” makes sense to some figures outside the ballroom community. “When there are these black diva figures that we look up to, like Diana Ross or Patti LaBelle or Chaka Khan,” he said, “there is also a way that we call them mother because not only do they fed with their music and their cultural contribution, but they kind of fed us.
“Mother” further entered the wider culture through the show “Pose,” which debuted in 2018 and was set in the New York ballroom scene of the 1980s. It stars the actress Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, who plays the mother of Evangelista’s fictional house.
Ms Rodriquez said being able to play a prom mother was an honor, a joy and a serious responsibility, adding that she found the newfound popularity of the term “beautiful”.
“I think anyone should be able to use a term that’s in vogue,” she said, stressing “it’s important to know where that term comes from, that is, the ballroom culture of Philadelphia and New York.”
Ms Rodriguez warned that there were “limits” to embracing a new term with deep historical ties to a marginalized community: “The limits are knowing where it comes from, always letting the world know where culture comes from.
These boundaries blur when a term, once popular online, finds its way into brand text. Mr. Baloue sees the corporate embrace of the mother as almost inevitable. “Black culture is American culture and it ends up informing everything,” he said.
After seeing Variety tweet that “Jennifer Lopez is a mother” and BuzzFeed UK say ‘Yellow Vests’ star Melanie Lynskey was “so MOTHER,” Professor Bailey said he found himself troubled. “It’s about commercializing identities and practices, and appropriating cultural formations like the ballroom community,” he said, “regardless of the conditions from which the ballroom bal was created in the first place.”
Enter Meghan Trainor, who has embraced the term mother to the nth degree.
Ms Trainor, who is pregnant with her second child, released her song ‘Mother’ in March, singing: “I’m your mother. You listen to me.” The music video for the song – which was released shortly before Ms Trainor released ‘Dear Future Mama’, a guide to new motherhood – even features ‘momager’ extraordinaire Kris Jenner and opens with a vocal stating that Ms Trainor is “literally a mother.” (Through a publicist, Ms Trainor declined to be interviewed for this story.)
The song and accompanying video were “a demonstration of how the term has lost all meaning,” Velásquez said. “We’ve reached the point where if you become the best at being bad, then you become the mother of being the opposite of the mother,” he said.
Ms Rodriguez, who knows Ms Trainor and likes the song “Mother”, said she liked the way the singer played on the duality of the term. “I think the way she uses the term, it’s good for her, and she can use it however she wants.”
She added: “The way the world sees him is the way the world sees him.”