A poor, elderly white woman living in a tenement in a black ghetto is befriended by a neighborhood boy, and the two of them form a mutually beneficial relationship: he provides her ... See full summary »


Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Adele Malone
B.T. Williamson
Three Bag Lady
Gorilla Sydney
Heavy Charm
Mrs. McIntyre
Black Fighter
Judge Alice Quentin
Dan Mason ...
Father Gannon
Cheryl Harvey ...
Probabtion Woman
Tall Black Man
Lanyard A. Williams ...
Young Man


A poor, elderly white woman living in a tenement in a black ghetto is befriended by a neighborhood boy, and the two of them form a mutually beneficial relationship: he provides her companionship and protection, and she becomes the mother he never had. Written by frankfob2@yahoo.com

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A proud widow. A frightened homeless kid. Nobody cared about them until they cared enough to fight for each other.







Release Date:

5 March 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Biala mama  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


White Mama was a title that the network kept insisting had to be changed. Bette Davis sent back word she would refuse to make the picture if they changed the title. See more »


Adele Malone: [after receiving an eviction notice] I ought to burn this place to the ground right now.
See more »

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User Reviews

A treat for fans of the later Davis
1 March 2009 | by (the ruins beneath the Planet of the Apes) – See all my reviews

This movie would really qualify as one of Bette Davis's last good roles. In "White Mama", she plays down-on-her-luck widow Adele Malone, who takes in a teenage foster child to help cover her expenses. This boy happens to be a sixteen year old, street-wise African-American boy called B.T. Surprisingly, he is played convincingly by 28 year-old Ernest Harden Jr, in a striking performance which should have garnered more attention.

The script avoids becoming predictable, and the relationship between Davis and Harden actually develops believably and logically, although any attempts to address racial issues seem to play a minor role in the film. And director Jackie Cooper manages to present a harrowing image of life on the street in New York City, with loud-mouthed thugs and destitute bag ladies populating the screen.

Bette Davis does nicely with the material, evoking sympathy by not appearing weepy or maudlin, which might be the case with a lesser actress. She remained a magnetic presence on the screen, and it's great fun to watch her interact with the talented young Harden, who matched her at every turn. But when she raises her voice, Davis tends to be a bit shrill, although it may very well be appropriate to her character. And there's one very amusing scene in which Mrs. Malone attempts to teach her young ward how to read, and soon becomes scandalized by his taste in "literature."

Certainly there are some nagging questions left unanswered. Like as to why Mrs. Malone remains estranged from her daughter, and not even certain of her whereabouts? Her explanation that her daughter "married an Army man," rings hollow, and really offers no valid reason. This surely implies some sort of dysfunctional relationship, especially considering that Mrs. Malone couldn't even contact her daughter to inform her of Mr. Malone's death.

We witness a great extended segment midway through in which Mrs. Malone is given a lesson in life-on-the-street from Eileen Heckart's Three Bag Lady. Unflinching and unsympathetic, these scenes remain compelling and very relevant today. And then there's Virginia Capers rounding out the cast as racially-insensitively-named (but sweet) street person, "Gorilla Sydney." There is also a nice turn by veteran actor Lurene Tuttle as a flustered neighbor of Davis, and a nasty little cameo from Anne Ramsay as the unpredictable and explosive bag lady "Heavy Charm."

I gave this little movie ten stars simply because I enjoyed the performances that much, and would recommend it highly to fans of either Davis or 80's flicks. For those who are not ardent Bette Davis admirers, the proceedings here might become a tad tiresome.

All that said, "White Mama," although it's burdened with an awkward title, still delivers some hard-hitting and relevant drama featuring the great Bette Davis in a role worthy of her talents.

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