Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Remember My Story Removed Part 2 Adoption Movie Review

It’s National Foster Care Month, and filmmakers Nathanael and Christina Matanick have released a powerful film that challenges us to think about the life experiences of kids in foster care. Remember My Story is the sequel to the powerful film, ReMoved, which was a viral hit after being quietly uploaded last year.


We revisit Zoe, a young girl who has come into foster care because of domestic violence. She is doing well in the home of her foster mother, and loves being able to share a home with her infant brother Beniah. Zoe’s mother continues to go through the court process, and a judge has to make decisions that will impact Zoe, Beniah, and the people that love them. Zoe has been reading The Wizard of Oz, and feels as though, like Dorothy, she is subject to an unpredictable tornado.

The Adoption Connection

Zoe and Beniah are kids in foster care. Their mother loves them, but a judge reminds us that the question isn’t whether she loves them, but whether she has maintained a parental relationship with them. Although Zoe and Beniah are siblings, it’s very possible that their cases will progress differently. Lots of people have choices to make – the judge, social workers, the foster mother, prospective adoptive parents, and even, to some extent, Zoe’s mother. Really, the only people without a voice are Zoe and Beniah. That’s the storm we join Zoe in as the story begins. Zoe opens with a challenge to adults, “You see your story, not mine. You can’t heal me. This is my story. I have to make peace with it.”

Strong Points

Remember My Story manages to capture a lot of the aspects and emotions of the foster-adoption process in only 20 minutes. Zoe’s continued placement with her brother comes into question, Zoe’s mom is given a “goodbye” visit and is told that she will not see her kids again, a judge asks whether an court-appointed advocate is present in court for Zoe (there isn’t), and in the midst of this, we see Zoe’s emotions. Sometimes her emotions boil over – at one point, she throws papers at her foster mother, and tells her, “I hate you.” We see that the system’s initial answer to her emotional distress is to medicate her, but Zoe’s foster mom challenges this, and Zoe encourages us to understand that her behavior makes sense in a context – she challenges us, “You see what I do, but forget why.”
Zoe’s foster mom is an excellent example of foster parenting. She is patient, kind, loving, and persistent.

We get to see Zoe as a young woman, thriving, and using her childhood experiences to help other children in similar situations.


Recommendation

Remember My Story is very effective. I found myself feeling angered, sad, hopeful, and joyful. 

These are emotions that are very real to foster care – for the adults involved and for the kids. 

Remember My Story has the potential to help adults develop compassion and understanding for kids 
in foster care. It’s a very real film which will likely be highly impactful to viewers who are, or have been, in foster care, and for kids particularly, I could see it as either triggering or healing; parents probably should watch it first, and then watch it alongside your kids, prepared to process it with them. This film is a can’t-miss for adults who care about kids in care.  


Questions for Discussion

How can you impact the lives of kids in Foster Care? Check out this (admittedly hand-drawn) flowchart





Would you make a good CASA? CASAs (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) are volunteers who follow a child’s journey through foster care and speak on their behalf in court.

When children react to life as Zoe does, yelling and speaking hurtfully, many parents would try to correct her, but her foster parent instead tries to empathize with her. What helped her be able to do that? What benefits does that approach bring to Zoe?


Interested in seeing Remember My Story? Here’s a list of upcoming screenings: http://removedfilm.com/pages/screenings

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Feeling Wanted - Short Film Review

In the short film, Feeling Wanted, Charrel Star Charleston narrates her own journey into and through foster care. She was left home alone, left with a great grandmother, and eventually taken into foster care. Charleston shares honestly about the abuse she suffered in care, the social anxiety caused by the fear of her classmates discovering that she was in foster care, and the insensitive ways that social workers handled her moves from foster home to foster home. Charleston also remembers, tearfully and gratefully, a small act of kindness done by a typically-mean foster sister. As an adult, she reflects on her continual process of forgiving her parents for what she experienced.


This short film is packed with insight. I noticed that, six minutes in, I had already taken three pages of notes. Feeling Wanted is an excellent resource for foster families, and for foster family agencies. It’s honest, thorough, and hopeful, and gets a high recommendation from Adoption at the Movies.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron Adoption Movie Review

The Avengers are raiding a base in an Eastern European country where the villainous Baron von Strucker is using a powerful artifact to experiment on two orphaned twins, Wanda and Pietro. In the course of the raid, the Avengers obtain the artifact, and some of the Avengers begin some experiments of their own. These experiments bring great peril that threatens the entire world, and threatens the cohesion of the Avengers themselves.
**SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY**




The Adoption Connection

Wanda and Pietro were orphaned during a military conflict. They have a strong bond with each other, and the person that they hold responsible for the loss they have experienced.

One character presents an interesting view of the function of children, “People create children to support them, to help them end.”

Two characters reveal to each other that they are infertile. One was sterilized as part of her spy/assassin training; she explains that her trainers believed the infertility “makes everything easier” because children would be too important to the operative.


Strong Points

The recent Marvel films are studies in motivation – what motivates people to act? Wanda and Pietro are motivated by vengeance. Wanda is able to manipulate others’ thoughts. She makes the Avengers see and confront their deepest fears, and the fears motivate them to action. Another character suggests that calamity happens when nations act out of fear, “Every time someone tries to end a war before it starts, innocent people die.” Examining our motivations is worthwhile, because the reasons we do things impact the way in which we do those things. Actions done out of fear or anger will be carried out differently than the same (or similar) actions done out of concern or rational thought or love. It’s true about adoption, too – the motivation behind an action, whether a decision to pursue adoption, or a decision about whether to keep an adoption open, or even a decision about whether to maintain a challenging foster care placement – the motivation propelling the action is very important, and worth examining and challenging.

The twins eventually realize the potential cost of their thirst for vengeance, and seem to have a change of heart.

One character (Scarlet Witch) provides an interesting example of an obviously manipulative person; I always think it’s worthwhile for parents to talk with teens about how peers can be manipulative.

The Avengers show that friends can stick together in spite of hard times and hurt feelings.


Challenges

Some viewers may be shaken by the twins’ story: they lost their parents traumatically, in a situation which also threatened the kids’ physical safety. That captures, in a nutshell, the stories of some kids who have come into foster care, and I could imagine this scene being a trigger for some of them.

Scenes of general, large-scale peril may also disturb some viewers with sensitivity to violence.

*BIG SEMI-SPOILER*   One character dies on screen after being shot. That could be hard for some viewers.


Recommendations

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an enjoyable movie with action, humor, and opportunities for real life reflection.   Some violence, discussion of parents dying, and the on-screen death of a character could be jarring for some viewers, but overall this should be a good choice for most viewers 12 and up, and their parents.


Questions for Discussion

What’s usually more important – what you do, or why you do it?

Do you tend to plan for the worst case or for the best case scenario?

One character says, “Everyone creates the things they dread.” Do you agree?

What are you most scared of? Is it a helpful or unhelpful fear?


Have you ever found order in chaos?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 Adoption Movie Review

New Jersey security officer Paul Blart is awkward and insecure, but good-hearted and brave. Lately, though, he is feeling alone. The three most people in his life have been his wife Amy, his young adult daughter, Maya, and his mother. However, Amy divorced Paul after less than a week of marriage, and Paul’s mother was recently killed when she was struck by a truck. Paul now clings to his daughter, and believes that he will be OK as long as she is by his side; however she has just been accepted to a university in California. Paul and Maya take a trip to Las Vegas for a security event, while Maya decides whether to tell her father about her acceptance to UCLA. While there, Maya falls into the hands of criminals, and Paul must summon his security skills – and his fellow security officers – to save her.


 The Adoption Connection

There aren’t any definite adoption connections in the film. Some things that might apply to parenting in general: Paul Blart and Maya appear to constitute a multi-cultural family. Paul struggles to come to terms with the fact that the daughter he’s protected for so long is now an independent adult; he struggles with letting her go (see Pacific Rim for a similardynamic). Maya feels responsible to meet her father’s emotional needs. I saw a similar theme in the recent Annie remake, where Quvenzhane Wallis’ titular character seemed to be responsible for teaching her foster father about love and nurturing.  


Strong Points

Paul and Maya do obviously love each other. They each try to put the other’s needs ahead of their own. Their struggle isn’t about one person needing to become less selfish; it’s about two unselfish people learning how to let their needs coexist, and that’s a task that’s common to many families.


Weak Points

Paul’s mother is run over by a truck, on screen, about a minute into the movie. It’s unexpected, and the camera does show it.  Because of the unexpected aspect, the fact that the death is shown on screen, and the way it’s presented, this could be a very traumatic scene for viewers who have lost a parent either through death or familial separation.

There’s actually a second on-screen incident of a car striking a pedestrian.


Recommendation

Critics have pretty roundly hated this one – it’s currently got a 2% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is good for some pretty mindless laughs, and there is an endearing element to the father-daughter relationship that Paul and Maya share. I worry that the scene where Paul’s mother is killed will be too shocking for most young viewers who have lost a parent. The film’s probably OK for some older teens, and I do particularly like the way they try to meet each other’s needs (see Strong Points, above). I think this one could be used by skillful parents to have worthwhile conversations about parent-teen relationships, even though the film itself isn't particularly reflective. Other films might be better choices, though. Check out Pacific Rim, Annie, or for films featuring a strong, single adoptive dad, check out Martian Child or Despicable Me 2.


Questions for After the Movie

How can people who love each other (like parents and teens) deal with it when they disagree about important things?

Does a parent’s job change at different points in the lives of their children? When, and how?


Have you ever gotten advice from a parent that seemed silly at first, but later turned out to be helpful?
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