Hushpuppy lives in “The Bathtub,” a small, forgotten, impoverished community in a mandatory evacuation area below a levee in southern Louisiana.
Hushpuppy is very independent for a five-year-old. Her mother left when she was very small; her father, Wink, looks after her, but Hushpuppy and
Wink each live in their own homes. The citizens of The Bathtub love their home, but it’s threatened by flooding because of the levee. Wink damages
the levee to protect The Bathtub, but his action alerts local authorities to the presence of people in the unsafe area. Residents are forcibly taken to
a shelter in a safer area; while there, Wink learns that he is very sick. When they have an opportunity, many of the residents of The Bathtub return
to their homes. There, Wink dies, and Hushpuppy stands together with the other citizens of The Bathtub, setting his funeral pyre afloat.
Lou Lumenick of The New York Post called “Beasts of the Southern Wild” a “challenging but hugely rewarding film.” Its relevance to adoption lies in
the challenge. Hushpuppy, Wink, and the citizens of The Bathtub are happy in their lives. Their lives aren’t perfect, though: Wink is always drinking
alcohol, and most social workers would probably report him as a negligent – and possibly abusive – parent. The home is in squalor, the education
provided at the school seems suspect, the residents are deeply impoverished, and the town they live in isn’t really safe. But yet, for them, this is
home. Outsiders who are better-off – in safer physical environment and with more resources, impose their help on residents of The Bathtub, but at
the first opportunity, the residents of The Bathtub go back home. The outsiders didn’t understand the importance – or the value – of the community
in The Bathtub.
The difficult (but, rewarding) adoption connection is the point of view that this movie provides. Imposed help isn’t always welcome (and might not
even be the best choice.) Adoptive parents and adoption professionals might not agree with the point-of-view this movie suggests, but would be
prepared to show sensitivity by at least understanding it. From some points of view, many adoptions follow the pattern of imposed help. The child is
growing up in (or is about to be born into) an environment that, from an outside point of view, seems underprivileged. In many international
adoptions – but also in domestic adoptions – children are often adopted from impoverished families into well-to-do families, from unsafe
neighborhoods into safer neighborhoods, and from less normative family circumstances into circumstances that are thought to be more “normal.” In
“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the help is forcibly imposed. That shouldn’t be the case in adoptions – but sadly, sometimes, it seems to be. Many
birthmothers share their stories online of being coerced or emotionally pressured into relinquishing their babies. As a social worker, I’ve heard (not
many, but not zero) adoption agencies express that they do put emotional pressure on birth parents to go through with relinquishments. Stories
exist of children being unethically freed for international adoption. In the case of foster care adoption, the “help” is forcibly imposed.
Are you uncomfortable yet?
It’s not an easy connection to make, and it’s not an easy viewpoint for some to see. And it also doesn’t apply to every situation. The point of the
movie isn’t, “imposed help is bad.” The point of this review isn’t “Adoption is bad.” Many birth parents enter willingly into adoption; the difficulty
inherent in making an adoption plan isn’t in itself evidence of coercion or of a bad decision. As a former foster care social worker, I know that many
times, children are brought out of horribly abusive situations and actively desire a safer, more stable family. Adoption isn’t bad. It can be a very
But the movie does raise two very powerful questions that every prospective adoptive family, and every adoption professional, should consider.
Here they are: “How will I be sure that the agency with which I join my life is an ethical agency?” and, “Is adoption the form of help that this family
needs right now, or would family maintenance or financial support be more in line with what they need?”
If your answer is, “Well, I really just want a child, so I don’t want to think about this” – then you’re probably not ready to approach adoption. Adoption
should be driven by a child’s need for parents, rather than parents’ needs for a child. When you do work through those questions, you’ll be ready to
be an ethical, child-centered, excellent parent.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is very thought-provoking, and it shows that strengths exist alongside weaknesses. The movie is a bit heavy for most
kids, who might see it as boring, confusing, or too frightening. It’s nearly a must-see for prospective adoptive parents and for adoption professionals.
Questions to talk about together after the movie:
Did Wink and Hushpuppy need forcibly-imposed evacuation? If you don’t think they did, how do you justify letting them stay in such a difficult
situation? If you think they did require imposed help, how do you justify taking adults away from the place they love as “home?”
If you were a social worker responding to a call about neglect, would you have taken Hushpuppy into foster care or recommended monitoring her
but leaving her with Wink? Why? If you took her into foster care, what recommendations would you make for Wink in order for him to regain custody
• Would you be rooting for him to get his life in order and get her back, or would you expect that he couldn’t have anything more than a surface-
level change, and hope that Hushpuppy would be quickly adopted from foster care?