12 May 2024

Amah: AI nanny pushes a mother to her limits

From Culture 101, 12:30 pm on 12 May 2024

AMAH Photo: Supplied

A psychological thriller, part of TVNZ’s Motherhood Anthology Series has been released in time for Mother’s Day.

The film’s title Amah holds three different meanings. The term, used in East Asia, describes a woman employed by a family to cook, clean and look after the children. In the Chinese Hokkien dialect, it’s the name and title given to a paternal grandmother and, in the case of this film, it also stands for ‘Artificially Maternal Android Helper’. 

Angeline Loo and Michelle Ang

Angeline Loo and Michelle Ang Photo: Supplied

In the short film, a career-driven mother and scientist hires an AI nanny to help raise her child. In a world of various parenting styles, including helicopter, free-range and gentle parenting, this couple have opted for a bot to raise their child in accordance with Malaysian-Chinese values. But, up against a science-based robot,  the mother soon becomes held to an impossible standard which starts to push her to the limits and brings her parenting ability into question. 

The style and cinematography of the film appears to pay homage to films like Parasite (2019) and Ex-Machina (2014). It explores themes of societal expectations of mothers juggling a career, grappling with guilt and judgement, and the struggle of maintaining an identity as a parent. 

They’re themes at the forefront of Michelle Ang and Angeline Loo’s minds. Both mothers and women in the film industry, their real-life experiences have inspired the project.

Ang and Loo met on the set of My Wedding and Other Secrets (2011). Ang portrayed the lead character while Loo served as co-writer alongside Roseanne Liang.

For Ang, this is her second project centred around the concept of motherhood. Her short drama Nai/Milk (2023), which she wrote, directed and starred in, focused on a young mother torn between cultural and societal pressures to be a selfless parent while also having the desire to reclaim her identity. 

Ang and Loo spoke to Culture 101’s Perlina Lau about coming to terms with the concept of “having it all”.