Robin Roberts gears up for her first production installment with Lifetime—with a film and documentary are based on the true story of a baby kidnapped from a Florida hospital and raised by a woman she had always thought to be her mother.
Robin Roberts Presents: Stolen By My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, January 18, 2020 at 8 PM ET/PT, followed by a one-hour documentary. We joined cast and crew at a special premiere event and screening in New York City on January 13. After the film, Roberts moderated a Q+A with director Jeffrey Byrd, Niecy Nash, Rayven Ferrell, and Ta’Rhonda Jones.
Anger, forgiveness, persistence, vulnerability, and empathy. Stolen by My Mother is the tale of three women whose lives became intertwined in 1998. In a Jacksonville hospital bed, Shanara Mobley (Ta’Rhonda Jones) cradles her newborn girl, Kamiyah Mobley, hours after giving birth. She is joined by South Carolina native Gloria Williams (Niecy Nash) a stranger posing as a helpful nurse. Shanara hands over her first child for what she thinks is a routine vitals check. Instead, Gloria walks out of the hospital room to care for Kamiyah as her own for 18 years. When Shanara and Kamiyah reunite in 2016, Shanara’s baby girl is a woman with a new persona, Alexis Manigo.
The film is a split between two narratives, from Kamiyah’s perspective. Each narrative explores two complex mother-daughter bonds—nature vs. nurture. In that way, it’s a twisted take on a coming-of-age story. Kamiyah/Alexis (Rayven Ferrell) is unintentionally caught in the middle of two identities, with two grief-stricken maternal figures. Her struggle between the two frames this film as a story of anti-heroes, rather than an obvious hero and villain.
In Florida, every year a piece of cake is cut on Kamiyah’s birthday. It’s a somber party of one as Shanara fights to hold herself together. In her first-ever drama, Jones portrays the emotional breakdown of a character trying to cope with loss without closure. That pain is what drives the disheartened Shanara to also be warrior determined to bring Kamiyah home.
In comparison, the scenes with Gloria in South Carolina bring the audience to laughter. In a close-knit household, a blissfully unaware Alexis grows up going to church on Sunday, receiving birthday parties full of guests, getting good grades, and having girl talk with Gloria. Without the back story, Gloria seems like the typical mother of a teen daughter in a lively blended family. But when her crimes come to light, the audience is forced to do a double take on her maternal instincts. You see the dynamic acting of Nash—whose character, you later realize, is more anxious than she lets on.
We chatted with the stars on the red carpet on their film, Stolen By My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story.
The Knockturnal: Is this a story that you were following—you were too young in 1998 when everything first happened—but when the news broke in 2016 that missing Kamiyah Mobley had been found?
Rayven Ferrell: When I actually found out more about the story was when I was auditioning for it, and that’s when I got really deep into it. That’s when I learned more and more as I went. But as far as knowing from before, not really. Yeah, it was just more so educating myself as I accepted the role.
The Knockturnal: How did you prepare yourself for this?
Rayven Ferrell: Google, interviews, Lifetime sent me links—but also after speaking with Kamiyah and also tying in my personal experiences. And it all just kind of came together as one in order for me to portray her.
The Knockturnal: You’ve been in other works where you’ve played real-life people—All Eyez on Me, The Bobby Brown Story. How was this one different?
Rayven Ferrell: This one was different because it was more personal, and it’s a lot more complex and a lot more involved, and it’s a lot more just to deal with as far as just like different levels of, you know, different phases of her life and it’s just not one thing, you know.
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with Robin, Niecy, and Ta’Rhonda?
Rayven Ferrell: It was a blessing. It was an experience. I learned a lot. I learned a lot on the acting side. I learned a lot in my personal life cause they poured so much knowledge onto me. Yeah, it’s something I’ll always be grateful for.
The Knockturnal: So what’s next for you in your career?
Rayven Ferrell: Right now, we are trying to see what’s next. I’m just auditioning, I’m working, I’m grinding, and we’ll see.
The Knockturnal: What drew you to this film?
Ta’Rhonda Jones: It was very riveting, a lot of riveting emotions. First of all, I’m super, super honored to be a part of an impactful film. And I have a lot of respect for the mother—the biological mother Shanara Mobley. For her to be broken, she was able to pick up the pieces and keep going on with her regular life, not knowing if her child was alive, dead, being fed, whatever the case may be. And I commend her, you know, for keeping a strong head and being—she was still optimistic through it all.
The Knockturnal: What helped you to portray such an emotional role?
Ta’Rhonda Jones: I used a lot of my past trauma. I have a cousin who’s like a brother to me. He was murdered in 2014. So I kind of tapped into that, used that, and put it towards the film. I’m super excited to see it cause this is actually my first time seeing it. I know they sent it to me, but I didn’t watch it cause I wanted the same reaction as you guys. So, I’m just excited to see it.
The Knockturnal: What was your first reaction when you saw the script?
Ta’Rhonda Jones: Oh my God, it was confusing only because you didn’t know whose side to take, which is strange. Even though Gloria was a kidnapper, she still took care of this young girl. She raised her to be a very articulate young girl. And not saying that the biological would not have been able to do the same—but it’s just, it’s so confusing. It was so confusing.
The Knockturnal: Given that confusion, did you see your role as “the mother” during your portrayal and while you were getting yourself into character?
Ta’Rhonda Jones: Absolutely. At the time, because I didn’t want to display any disrespect to the biological mother. So I did it from my perspective, even though I got the script, even though they want it a certain way—I still want to put a little bit of my sugar in the tank and natural with that, you know, the mother was respected in a way as well.