Adoption has shown up widely in cinemas over the last twelve or so months. From explicitly adoption-related movies like The Odd Life of Timothy Green parenthood fuel major plot points – Pacific RimDespicable Me, Two, to films where struggles connected to adoptive – it’s very possible to go to the movies as a family and leave with something important to talk parenthood to films where adoption is just a fact of life, like about.
For the last year, I’ve been writing adoption and foster-care themed movie discussion guides at www.adoptionlcsw.com, and I’m having fun looking at new and familiar movies through a new lens. Also, I’m really enjoying the chance to feel like I have a reason to get to the movies with some regularity.
Some movies cover adoption overtly, some are more of a stretch to fit through my filter. Some are very positive and affirming. Others have the potential to do harm. But almost every movie can be used to some good. That’s why I write the adoption movie reviews – I know that movies can be an easily-accessible bridge into important conversations. To honor National Adoption Month, I’ll be highlighting some of the very best movies of the past year or so (anything released since 2012 is fair game). I’ll also highlight a couple dishonorable mentions, and highlight a couple older movies that deserve special recognition. So, consider this a long list of movie recommendations. Fire up your Netflix queue, and get the popcorn popping. Please enjoy the first ever “Adoption at the Movies” awards!
Best Smaller-Scale Releases
CAMP: Eli is brought into foster care when his mother dies of a drug overdose. He is initially placed into a group home. Shortly afterwards, Eli is able to attend a summer camp intended to help foster kids form relationships with caring adults. Eli is assigned to Ken, a counselor who cares more about money than about kids. However, Ken eventually learns to care for Eli. He becomes trustworthy, and Eli becomes able to trust. Eli’s father is eventually arrested, and it becomes apparent that Eli will need an adoptive family. Because of the relationship they built at camp, Ken Closure: In this independent documentary, filmmaker Bryan Tucker chronicles the journey of her wife, Angela, as she seeks to reunify with her birth family. Angela was adopted from foster care through a closed adoption, but she has been able to discover the identity and location of her birthfather. Through him, she meets the rest of her family. Angela is initially met with varying degrees of acceptance but she chooses not to be disconsolate. Angela eventually comes to understand the story – her story – of being adopted. She regains some of the relationships that had been lost. And she is supported by her adoptive family throughout the whole journey. Closure validates the rights of adoptees to seek out and learn their whole stories, and does it in a palatable way.
First Comes Love: 40-year-old filmmaker Nina Davenport took time to reassess her life. She was single, had no prospects for marriage, and wanted to be a parent. Nina convinced one of her friends to be a sperm donor. This HBO documentary chronicles Nina’s journey, from deciding to pursue fertility treatments, to undergoing the rigorous preparations that will be familiar to many families who’ve dealt with infertility, to birthing and raising her child. First Comes Love is a very interesting look at one woman’s path to parenthood. Many prospective adoptive parents have also considered or pursued infertility treatments, and so much in this documentary may resonate with them. Also, Nina’s film captures the different reactions she receives from various friends and family members and her efforts to define the relationship between her son and his biological family. There are certainly some adoption connections, and one particularly sage piece of advice. A friend tells her, “Nina – your concerns about pursuing parenthood are logistical. But your desire to parent comes from a place of love.” It helped her sort out her fears. It might be helpful to others, too.
Journey to Jamaa: In this short film, Derick and Margaret are orphaned when their mother dies of an infectious disease. They travel through their country to reach the home of their uncle, Samuel, escaping from an opportunistic child-labor boss along the way. When Derick and Margaret reach Samuel’s home, he is initially unwilling to take them in, fearing that he will not be able to provide for them and for his own children, and wondering if they might be carriers of the infectious disease that killed their mother. Samuel eventually decides that, with the help of a local child sponsorship organization, he will be able to fulfill his responsibility to his nephew and niece. Journey to Jamaa shows an innovative way to help children in need; while international adoption is sometimes a child’s path into a happy life, in many cases it is possible for children to remain with members of their extended family. Journey to Jamaa gets points for highlighting an important and largely non-intrusive way to help children in need.
The Invisible Red Thread: Vivian was adopted from China in the mid 1990’s. Now, as a teenager, she finds that she has questions about the life that she might have had. Supported by her family, and accompanied by her father, Vivian returns to China and spends time with a girl who was adopted about the same time as Vivian, but raised in China. This documentary is fascinating as it shows both the differences in adoption between various cultures as well as Vivian’s reaction to the differences between the life she has in Canada, and the life she may have had in China. Like Closure, The Invisible Red Thread legitimizes an adoptee’s right to get answers to their questions and to have access to their story and history, and it does it in a realistic, likeable way.
And the Winner Is….
This category highlights the range of ways that families can help children – through child sponsorship, camp counsellorship, or open adoptions. These films and documentaries also shine windows into people going through a range of experiences – fertility treatments, seeking out birth family members, seeking out an understanding of culture of origin, dealing with loss, adjusting to being in foster care. Any of these films could be helpful to prospective adoptive parents, and most could be helpful to kids – especially if adults watch the films and let themselves be challenged to think about the many ways in which they could help.
Each of these films is worth seeing. But for now, the award goes to Closure. The need for adoptive families to understand an adoptee’s right to openness is huge. In foster care, it’s often easy for adoptive parents – and social workers – to dismiss openness because of actual or assumed facts about the birthfamily. But Angela Tucker’s story presents the need, the method, and a good result of an adult adoptee trying to reunify with her birthfamily. The reunification doesn’t undo her adoptive family, but it does bring closure and healing to some parts of her life. Definitely worth seeing.