Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Divergent: Allegiant Adoption Movie Review

After genetic experiments failed miserably, The Bureau of Genetic Welfare has created several isolated cities where genetically crafted societies are created, with the hope that eventually these societies will produce genetically pure people. Tris and her companions have escaped from the city of Chicago, and have now discovered the Bureau. Tris speaks with David; she initially believes that he intends to bring peace to Chicago, but learns that he has known of all the terrible events that they have experienced, and did nothing to stop them. Wars are breaking out in Chicago, but Tris and her friends decide to go to Chicago to tell the citizens about The Bureau, who she believes is their common enemy.



The Adoption Connection

The Bureau takes impoverished children and places them in cities like Chicago. The Bureau’s position is that they are saving the children; opponents say that they are stealing the children. To ensure a fresh start, the Bureau wipes the children’s memories. A character protests, “If you take away what they know, you take away who they are.”


Strong Points

Although she shows it in misguided ways, Four’s mother demonstrates her love for him, and shows how important their relationship is, at great cost to herself.


Challenges

Lots of violence, including executions carried out by bloodthirsty mobs, could make this a difficult movie for some kids and pre-teens. Tris initially suggests that she will not save her brother from such an execution, since he did wrong, and she “owes him nothing.” She does eventually save him, saying “It’s what you do for family.”

Tris and her friends initially thought they were safe when they got to the Bureau, but instead they found yet another set of untrustworthy adults.  


Recommendations

Divergent: Allegiant seems most likely to appeal to teenagers; it is probably too violent for many younger viewers. Critics have panned it widely, and some adults might find it less entertaining than they’d like. This one is probably OK for teens 15 and up. The film does not mention adoption, and many viewers will not see a connection between adoption and the Bureau’s gathering of children. For those teens who do see a connection, parents will want to be prepared to talk about it after the movie.


Questions for Discussion

The Bureau was imposing their help on people who did not have the option to refuse. How do you feel about that?  

How can you know when you are with a safe adult?


How much of your self-identity is informed by what you know about your past, and about your family’s past? 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Doc McStuffins - Disney Junior Does a Great Job of Handling Fears Kids Have about Adoption

Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins recently ran a five-episode storyline where the McStuffins family brought a new baby into their home, through adoption.


In the first episode, Baby McStuffins, Doc’s parents tell her and her brother Donny that they have a surprise – they will be adopting a baby. Doc is excited to be a big sister, but is also nervous, wondering whether she will be up to the task. Doc is friends with some stuffed animals which come to life in her imagination. Her friends are supportive, and help her get ready to assume the role of a big sister. Doc’s parents assure her that the baby will be a full part of their forever family, and Doc and Donny express their excitement. Doc even says, “I love the new baby already.”

The second story, “Runaway Love” shows the feelings of fear that some children may have prior to their family adopting another child. Donny gets ready to run away, believing that the new baby will make everyone “too busy to play with me.” One of Doc’s toys, Lambie, also feels that they will be replaced by the baby. Lambie expresses, “I sure hope Doc has time for me after the baby comes,” and feels upset when Doc cannot play. Donny wonders if his parents won’t love him as much once the baby comes, and he does temporarily move to a tent set up in the yard. Doc and her other toys being looking for Lambie. Young viewers who fear being replaced will be relieved to hear the search party clearly express their feelings, “We love Lambie and won’t give up till we find her.” Donny’s parents find him, and assure him, “The new baby will not replace you ever. We have enough love for all of you.” Doc assures Lambie, “I will always have enough love for you. You’ll always be my lamb.” A closing song proclaims, “I have plenty of love, can’t keep it to myself, and never running out.”

The third episode, “Hootie’s Duty” shows the McStuffins family as they prepare for a baby shower. Doc’s wise owl toy, Professor Hootsburgh, is charged with training the baby’s new toys on how to be good toys. In order to prepare herself for life in the nursery, Professor Hootsburgh gets subjected to messes, and she is slobbered on by a couple toys. Doc McStuffins intelligently shows many different types of anxiety that youngsters might feel about an upcoming addition to their family, but assures them that “a cuddle and a smile makes it all worthwhile,” and promises, “Act with love, and you’ll do just fine.” A character explains that, although she was nervous, she’ll do “whatever it takes” to make sure that the baby is cared for.
In the fourth episode, “Bringing Home Baby,” Doc’s parents go off to meet the baby, while Doc’s grandmother comes over to babysit Doc and Donny. While waiting for her parents to return, Doc remembers the way each of her toys came into her family. When Doc’s new baby sister arrives, the family declares, “She’s perfect, and totally worth waiting for,” and Doc promises, “I’ll be your sister forever and longer.”

In the final episode, “Baby Names,” Doc’s parents are undecided about what to call their new daughter. The note that her birth mother loves the name Alana, since it’s her grandmother’s name, and so they’ve decided to use that as the baby’s middle name. I love that Doc McStuffins acknowledges and incorporates the birth mother and her wishes. The baby’s new toy, Lala, is scared that the baby’s cries mean that the baby does not like Lala, but other characters reassure Lala that baby’s just cry sometimes. Lala eventually sings a song about the baby, and part of that song becomes the baby’s first name. Although Lala worries that she won’t fit in, Doc assures her, “Home is love and family. You’ll fit in; this is your home.”


Overall, Doc McStuffins covers a range of fears and questions that kids might have about adoption, and does it with warmth, humor, and reassurance. Job well done, Disney! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 Adoption Movie Review

Toula Portakalos Miller is back working at her father’s restaurant. Her teenage daughter is getting ready to go to college, but is feeling smothered by the family; she has to decide between a local Chicago college, or a school in New York. Toula and her husband Ian are experiencing a strain in their marriage; Ian believes it is because Toula is overinvolved with her family. Toula’s father Gus is researching his family papers in order to prove that he is a direct descendant of Alexander the Great, but learns along the way that his marriage of fifty years is not legitimate because a priest never signed the certificate; he and his wife argue about whether they need to be re-married, and she refuses to remarry him unless he proposes properly.




The Adoption Connection

There is no adoption element to the story. Toula’s family is very proud of their Greek heritage, and her father is researching his ancestry in order to take pride in a supposed relative. Toula ultimately forges paperwork to make her father believe that he is descended from Alexander the Great.

Toula dreads the possibility of Paris leaving Chicago for school, tearfully saying that she can’t imagine what she will do if Paris leaves her. It’s a stretch, but this might pull on the heartstrings of parents who have lost children to adoption.


Strong Points

There is a great sense of family loyalty and identity in Toula’s Big Fat Greek family.


Challenges

Toula’s daughter, Paris, is pressured by her grandfather to get married, since she’s starting to look old. She’s only 17. A comment is made about a woman needing to get pregnant so that she is "not wasting her eggs."


Recommendations

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 doesn’t seem likely to appeal to younger viewers. Parents might enjoy it as a light-hearted comedy. It does offer a couple points for discussion after the movie; think about it as a fun movie and dinner-conversation date night opportunity.


Questions for Discussion
What heritages are brought into our family by each family member? How do we celebrate and honor those heritages? How can we honor and celebrate them?  


Paris wonders why parents tell their children to pursue their dreams, but instead try to keep control over them. What do you hope for your children? How can you plan to transition from control into guidance as they get older? 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Jungle Book (2016) Adoption Movie Review

Disney revisits its retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s tale of Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera in The Jungle Book. Mowgli is a young human boy who was found, abandoned, by a panther named Bagheera. Bagheera brought Mowgli to the wolves Akela and Rashka, who raised him as their own. However, when a drought brings all of the animals together for water, Mowgli is discovered by Shere Kahn, a tiger who hates humans because a human (acting in self-defense) burned Shere Kahn’s face. Shere Kahn promises that the jungle will not be safe until Mowgli is dead. Akela and Rashka entrust Mowgli to Bagheera, and Bagheera sets off to return Mowgli to the human village. When they are separated, Mowgli falls into peril, but is rescued by the carefree bear Baloo. Mowgli wants to stay in the jungle, but it’s uncertain whether he fits in, and it’s quite certain that he is not safe.


*Please Note: Spoilers ahead the rest of the way*




The Adoption Connection

Mowgli is raised by Akela and Rashka. He also finds parent figures in Bagheera (who also takes credit for raising Mowgli), and to some extent in the carefree Baloo. Mowgli was found abandoned because his human father was killed by the tiger Shere Kahn. Mowgli was very young when the incident occurs, but a villain brings images of the attack and death to Mowgli’s mind, and to the movie screen.
In order to keep the pack and Mowgli safe, the wolves that have raised him consider whether he should leave the pack. In a departure from the original film, Mowgli volunteers to leave to keep the pack safe.  Although his mother Rashka protests, Mowgli leaves.

Shere Kahn says some awful things about adoption that I’ll cover later in this review.

In the original film, Mowgli returns to the human village, and Bagheera and Baloo are content that he has gone where he belongs. In this film, Mowgli protests deeply, suggesting that Bagheera can’t be returning Mowgli to his home, since the jungle is his home. In both films, Bagheera and Baloo both urge Mowgli towards the man village over Mowgli’s protests. ** BIG SPOILER – in this version, Mowgli does ultimately stay in the jungle. **

Strong Points

Mowgli is ultimately accepted by the jungle family as one of their own, and also appreciated by the jungle family for his human identity. This seems to be a significant improvement over the original film. Mowgli is able to be both fully human and fully part of the jungle; both parts of his identity are honored by the end of the story.

Mowgli is able to find success when he incorporates the skills he has because he is human (rather than wolf); he is also able to express that he identifies as a part of the jungle society and the wolf family, rather than part of the man village.

Mowgli clearly asserts his discomfort with Bagheera’s attempt to bring him to the man village. He explains, “I don’t know man,” and “This is my home, I want to stay.” He also chastises Bagheera, saying “it’s not fair; there’s lots of stuff you’re not telling me.”

Even in Mowgli’s absence, members of the pack wonder whether they could have saved him, and they express their regret that he is gone.

Rashka, Bagheera, Mowgli’s birth father, and Baloo all demonstrate their deep love for Mowgli, and all act unselfishly for him, although Baloo takes a while to get there. When Mowgli does leave the pack, Rashka reminds him, “You’re mine… No matter where you go or what they call you, you will always be my son.”


Challenges

As some characters struggle with Mowgli’s identity, some things are said which could be hard for some viewers touched by adoption. One character comments that even though Mowgli wasn’t “born a wolf” he need to at least “act like one.”

Akela tells Mowgli not to do any human “tricks.” Interestingly, it’s a human trick that ultimately saves Mowgli.

For a brief moment, it seems as though Mowgli’s wolf siblings are unsure of whether to accept him.


Weak Points

Mowgli experiences much loss of fathers. His birth father and his adoptive father are both murdered (on screen or just slightly off-screen) by Shere Kahn. He is also separated from Bagheera, and rejected at one point by Baloo. Akela’s death is startling and violent. Mowgli is also forced to revisit his father’s murder.

Perhaps the most potentially damaging parts of the film are words spoken about adoption by Shere Kahn. He asks Akela, “When was it that we came to adopt man into the jungle?” In an attempt to turn the wolf cubs against Mowgli, Shere Kahn tells them a story. I can imagine it being very painful and potentially damaging to young viewers touched by adoption. The story is about a cuckoo bird. According to Kahn, the cuckoo puts his eggs into the nests of other birds. Then, the other mother hatches the cuckoo, and treats it as her own bird. However, the other chicks do not have enough food because their mother is taking care of the cuckoo chick. Kahn ends his story, saying that “her own chicks starve and die all because a mother loved a chick who was not her own.”  The lines are spoken by a villain, but the sharpness of them could still surprise some viewers.  


Recommendations

There isn’t an easy answer for The Jungle Book. This retelling of the story does an excellent job of leaving Mowgli at a healthy place – fully human, fully part of the jungle. It also has some very traumatic parental deaths, and perhaps the unkindest words about adoption in recent movies. Some viewers, regardless of age, will be put off by some aspects of this film. On the other hand, the film does end up in a healthy spot. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids under 9; kids 9 and up could enjoy it with parental supervision and discussion, but parents might want to watch this one ahead of time, before sharing it with their kids.


Questions for Discussion

Is Mowgli a human or a wolf? Or, in which ways is he each?

Do you think that he belongs in the man village or the jungle? How can he tell?

What’s a good response to Shere Kahn’s story? Why did he say it?


How many different characters were like a parent to Mowgli? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Losing Isaiah Adoption Movie Review

Khalia Richards is nursing her newborn infant, Isaiah, in a rundown apartment where she is squatting. She wants to go get some cocaine, but the other squatters prevent her from leaving Isaiah because he is crying. Khalia leaves Isaiah in a covered cardboard box while she does drugs. The next morning, garbage men are putting Isaiah’s box into a trash compactor, and notice that Isaiah is there just barely before he would have been crushed to death. They take him to the hospital, where he catches the eye of Margaret Lewin, a social worker. When Khalia recovers from passing out, she tries to find Isaiah, but he is gone.  She believes that she has killed him. Khalia is later arrested for shoplifting, which leads to her being enrolled in a rehab. There, she gets her life in order and begins caring for other children, all the while holding her secret guilt over her belief that she killed her son. Meanwhile, Isaiah is adopted by Margaret and her husband, and is thriving. Three years later, Khalia learns that Isaiah is alive. She gains access to his case record, and finds the name of his adoptive family. She then sets off to have the adoption overturned and to win him back.





The Adoption Connection

Losing Isaiah touches on many fears related to adoption. Many birth parents might fear for what has happened to their child, and feel loss, grief, or guilt for the child being in the system. Adoptive parents often fear having their adoptions overturned and losing their child. Adoptees often fear a lack of stability and belonging, but might wonder whether their birth parents will ever come for them. 

This is a very unsettling film, and it brings us into the court process of an adoption that is being contested several years after the fact.


Strong Points

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cinderella (1950) Adoption Movie Review

In this classic 1950 Disney film, Cinderella is the orphaned daughter of a widower. The widower had remarried the Lady Tremaine, but Lady Tremaine vastly favors her two daughters over Cinderella. 

With the widower deceased, Lady Treamine and her daughters treat Cinderella like a servant. The drudgery of daily life is broken by an invitation from the palace – hoping to find a bride for the Prince, the King has required every eligible maiden to attend a ball. Although Cinderella’s stepmother tries to prevent her from attending, with a little help from her Fairy Godmother, she is able to go. The Prince falls for her, but she runs away, not wanting him to see her without her magical wardrobe. The King sends out a search party to find the woman who stole the Prince’s heart, but Lady Tremaine really doesn’t want Cinderella to be happy.

The Adoption Connection

Cinderella has experienced the loss of both of her parents, and is being cared for by someone else. 

She’s also being abused by her caretaker, who vastly prefers her biological children to Cinderella.

Cinderella takes a young mouse into her care, gives him a new name, teaches him her rules, and dresses him.


Strong Points

In spite of much adversity, Cinderella remains hopeful, kind, and positive. Many foster kids do the same in spite of experiencing abuse. I have been impressed at how resilient kids can be.


Challenges

While there is an element of hope and a promise that things will get better (and this is a beloved classic), there’s not really substance to the hope. More on that in a second.


Weak Points

This film, made in the 1950’s, highlights old stereotypes of cruel and negligent step-, foster, and adoptive parents. Cinderella only finds happiness in escaping.

In Cinderella’s world, only magic makes things better. One of Cinderella’s superstitions says, “If you tell a wish, it won’t come true.” Another is that if you keep on (silently) believing, you’ll get your wish. It’d be better for kids to feel free to share what’s on their minds. It’s empowering to realize that your words can change your situation sometimes, and valuable to learn when something you wish for isn’t readily possible.

In one scene, Cinderella’s stepsisters rip her clothes off of her. I could imagine this being a triggering scene to children who have been sexually abused.

The Prince’s father is quick to rage, and tries to decapitate his closest servant for a minor offense – we see him take several (missed) swings with a sword.


Recommendations

Kids learn from stories. The messages we absorb as kids often become part of our narratives, whether we realize it or not. Although Cinderella is a beloved, timeless classic it could convey some unhelpful thoughts about how things change, and it does show an unfortunate stereotype of cruel non-biological parents. Some newer Disney films might be healthier and more enjoyable for kids who’ve been adopted or who have been in foster care. I feel kind of bad saying it, given how many people love this one, but it's probably a marginal choice at best, and might even be one to skip until your kids are old enough to evaluate the film's presuppositions.


Questions for Discussion

Why were Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters so mean to her?


What are some other ways her life could have gotten better?
Open Adoption Blogs