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Tuesday, February 2, 2016
In My Identity, Ashley Wolford shares the journey she went through to create herself. Ashley is a young, Native American woman. My Identity is the latest short film from foster care-focused filmmaker Yasmin Mistry, and is a beautiful and powerful retelling of Ashley’s story. After growing up with an absent father and a drug-addicted mother, Ashley was placed in Kinship Care – a foster care placement with her relatives. Even then, Ashley did not immediately find stability, as she was moved from home to home and was ultimately separated from her brother. Even in adulthood, she was estranged from her brother when he refused to accept her conversion to Islam. In spite of this, Ashley has managed to thrive, and although she grieves some of the lost relationships in her life, she maintains a sense of positivity and reaches out to help others.
The Adoption / Foster Connection
Ashley spent much of her childhood in kinship care, which is foster care placement with relatives. She was separated from her brother, and worked with around 30 caseworkers. She also expressed an understanding that many Native American children in foster care do not have access to their culture.
Ashley maintains a desire for positivity in spite of the challenges and pain she has experienced.
Challenges and Weak Points
No concerns with this one. It would be interesting to revisit Ashley in a decade or so to see what her identity looks like in the future. A second-edition ten years later would perhaps be even more valuable, but as it is, it’s already insightful.
My Identity is a very short film that seems most likely to appeal to teens and adults. It would be valuable viewing for prospective foster and adoptive parents who are considering taking placement of grade-school or older kids. The film would also be helpful to any prospective parents as it could help them consider the place of culture in the life of their future children; Ashley’s point about Native children not having access to their culture is an important and clearly-stated fact.
Questions for Discussion
What elements make up your identity? How did they each shape you as you formed your identity?
How do you feel about Ashley’s statement that Native children in foster care are often not able to be connected to their culture? Apply this to other cultures a well. Is it a big deal? If so, what can foster parents do to rectify this?
Catch the trailer here; http://www.fostercarefilm.com/my-identity
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Po has learned over his first two films that he is a Panda, that he was adopted by his father, a goose named Mr. Ping, and that he is the long-foretold Dragon Warrior. In Kung Fu Panda 3, Po learns what it means to be the Dragon Warrior – and he comes face-to-face with his birth father, Li Shan. Po must continue to explore all the aspects of his own identity to find peace for himself and for the world. And he needs to do it well, because his birth father and adoptive father are at odds with each other – and because the villainous Kai has returned from the spirit world intent on taking revenge against all Kung Fu masters.
PLEASE NOTE: SPOILERS ARE AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY
The Adoption Connection
Po is a panda, and is the adopted son of Mr. Ping. Until recently, he did not know that there were other pandas alive. Now, though, he meets his birth father, and is brought to a secret location where many pandas continue to live in peace. Po has the opportunity to explore what it means to be a panda; he learns how they live, how they eat, and how they move. His birth father, Li Shen, is intent on teaching Po how to be a panda. He tells Po how Po came to be separated from him, and often refers to Po as “Lotus,” which was Po’s name at birth.
Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping is worried that Li Shen will reduce Mr. Ping’s role in Po’s life. When Li Shen takes Po to the panda village, Mr. Ping secretly accompanies them, not wanting to lose Po. Mr. Ping’s defensiveness and anxiety are palpable upon first meeting Li Shen, and Li Shen appears somewhat insensitive towards Mr. Ping’s feelings. It’s a bumpy ride, but they eventually do find a way to a healthy shared parental role.
Overall, Kung Fu Panda 3 strikes me as a positive adoption story. By the end of the film (and of course, this is a spoiler), Mr. Ping and Li Shen have learned to co-function as fathers to Po. My wife noted that it was really only Mr. Ping and Li Shen that had any difficulty with this; Po naturally took to calling them, collectively, “Dads,” but it took the grown-ups a while longer to reach this peace.
There are some hard spots along the way that could be difficult for some viewers – kids and adults – when Mr. Ping and Li Shen both are less than ideal in their approach to the situation, but even those struggles seem to be realistic. Overall, though, Po, Mr. Ping, and Li Shen reach an understanding that they are all family. This reminded me of Lori Holden’s framework of “Both/And” rather than “Either/Or” – Po easily realized that Mr. Ping and Li Shen were both his dads; it took Mr. Ping, particularly a while to realize that it was not an “either/or” situation. Mr. Ping was able to explain his fears to Li Shen in a wonderfully vulnerable moment, “I was worried you’d steal Po from me. That was crazy. Having you in Po’s life doesn’t mean less for me. It means more for Po.” In fact, Po captures it wonderfully, “Who am I? I’ve been asking the same question. Am I the son of a panda? The son of a goose? A student? A teacher? Turns out, I’m all of them.” Well said, and way more insightful than most films.
Mr. Ping initially warms to the panda culture when he sees elements of Po in the young pandas in the village (they like noodles, just like Po did.) Mr. Ping and Li Shen’s first act of co-parenting comes when they both encourage Po.
It’s obvious that Mr. Ping and Li Shen both love Po, even as they’re trying to figure out their role with regard to his other father.
It’s touching to see Po return to the panda village. He is amazed to see people who look like him, “You’re like me but a baby. You’re like me but old. You’re like me but fatter.” It’s a heartwarming scene.
At one point, Mr. Ping and Li Shen refer to themselves as Po’s “Double Dad Defense.”
A villain has captured, in some sense, nearly every hero in the world.
In some sense, Po is forced to fight against his friends. While adults will understand the nuanced difference, younger kids might feel that Po has been betrayed
Li Shen lies to Po. When Po confronts him, Li Shen says that he lied in order to protect Po, “I lost you before; I won’t lose you again.” Po’s response is painful, “You just did.”
In one scene, Po and Li Shen talk to each other about looking for their lost relatives. They are in front of a crowd of onlookers who are befuddled that Po and Li Shen don’t realize their relationship. It’s played for humor, but it could be confusing to young children who have been adopted into a family that looks physically different from them. They might need help understanding that, while physical traits are passed on from one’s genetic family, not everyone who shares physical traits with a child is a member of that child’s genetic family.
Mr. Ping initially does not want Po to call Li Shen “Dad.”
Po is told of the traumatic story by which he was separated from his parents.
The sense of competition between dads could be uncomfortable for adopted people, adoptive parents, and birth parents.
While most of the pandas are very warm towards Po, some younger pandas are insensitive, asking “What kind of panda doesn’t know” how pandas move. Po responds, “I’m new at being a panda.”
In talking to Li Shen about how they’ve each lied to Po, Mr. Ping says “Sometimes, we do wrong
things for right reasons.” While it is not good for parents to lie to their children about adoption, it is realistic to acknowledge that even the lies are told “for right reasons.” They’re misguided and perhaps harmful, but not malicious. It’s a valid nuanced distinction.
Po's dads do lie to him. Li Shen did lie to Po about a very important thing, and it seems that Po will blame Li Shen for taking away Po’s friends – and to some extent, Po’s purpose in life. In an attempt to comfort Li Shen, Mr. Ping tells him, “I lied to Po for twenty years. He still thinks he came from an egg.” Mr. Ping also refers to Li Shen as “a monster” once.
There are some very challenging scenes that will be inappropriate for some viewers, depending on their age, maturity, and understanding of adoption issues. These scenes are not generally “bad” – just “hard,” and maybe too hard for some younger viewers. With parental discretion, this can be a very strong film.
This isn’t going to be an easy film for viewers touched by adoption – there are some very difficult and painful scenes and concepts, but ultimately, Po and his two fathers reach a very healthy spot. The difficulty they experience likely mirrors the struggle that real-life families have to go through on the road to a healthy integration of birth and adoptive families. This is a good movie to watch, but adoptive parents should prepare their kids ahead of time for the adoption issues that will be in the movie, and should intentionally discuss the film with their kids afterwards. Parents whose kids are too young to discuss the adoption issues might want to wait a while on this film, but if kids are able to talk through their feelings about the film, this could be a very powerful and positive conversation starter. Recommended for ages 9 and up. Kids 8 and under might not be ready to do the processing work that will be necessary to benefit from this film, and that work is important here because of how heavy the hard scenes are.
Questions for Discussion
What makes you, you?
Has someone ever lied to you, doing “the wrong thing for the right reason?” Did their good intentions make it less painful? If it didn’t make it less painful, does it make it easier to forgive?
Do you think Po has to choose either Mr. Ping or Li Shen to be his dad, or can he say that they both are his dads?
A question that Po must answer throughout the series is, “Who are you?” Now that Kung Fu Panda 3 is completed – who do you say Po is?
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The animals of the North Pole have started putting on shows for human tourists, believing that if the humans love them, they will not destroy their habitat. When Norm, and English-speaking, dancing polar bear, learns that humans are intending to build houses on his polar land, he sets off to New York City in an attempt to stop them from ruining his home. Norm must first win the heart of the international community, and then he must use his popularity to turn people against the evil real estate tycoon Mr. Greene. Along the way, he hopes to find his grandfather, who has been missing for many years; Norm thinks that there might be more than one thing wrong with Mr. Greene.
The Adoption / Foster Connection
Foster families might see some relevance in this one. Norm has been separated from his grandfather, and isn’t sure where he’s gone. He fears that he has been abandoned by his grandfather. His home is threatened, and because of a problem at his home, Norm must travel far away, with the goal of returning back to his home.
Norm is brave, and although he doesn’t fit others’ expectations of what a leader should be, he leads effectively. He depends on his own bravery and creativity, his own personality, and the encouragement of a friend.
Norm is able to find out that his grandfather didn’t abandon him, but was taken away against his will.
Some young viewers might find it too sad to see that Norm has been separated from his grandfather; when we finally do see his grandfather, we find that he has been mistreated. Some traumatic loss is suggested, as well.
Norm is mocked and ridiculed by those close to him when he warns them of impending danger.
One hero desperately wants to attend Magister Mundi school, which touts itself as being for “The Genius, The Gifted, The Great, and No One Else.” It’s a little confusing to have the goal of a hero to be to attend such a snobbish institution.
At one point, Norm takes blame on himself, believing that his efforts have failed. He says, “I came to save my home and ended up destroying it.”
The film seems likely to appeal to only very young viewers, maybe 7 and under, but viewers in that age range might be particularly bothered by the themes of peril and loss regarding Norm’s loved one.
Norm of the North reminds me of Paddington; in both films, a bear travels from a remote home to a big city in an attempt to find lost family. Paddington is a more endearing film, though. Norm feels dated and flat, and probably will lose the interest of kids much older than 7 or 8. At the same time, young viewers might be scared by the villain’s overt attempts to kill Norm and his grandfather, by talk of grandparental abandonment, and might also be particularly bothered by the sight of a long-lost relative finally being found, but being found in a cage. Kids who aren’t bothered by those themes might enjoy the silly slapstick comedy of Norm’s lemming friends. This might be a safe choice for kids ages 6-7, with parental guidance with regard to the themes mentioned earlier. It probably won’t be anyone’s favorite film, though.
Questions for Discussion
Why did Norm think he had been abandoned? How do you think he felt when he realized that he wasn’t abandoned?
Is Norm a good polar bear? What makes him good?
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
When Brad married Sara, he was hopeful that he would become a dad to Sara’s two children, Megan and Dylan. Although Megan and Dylan were initially opposed to Brad, they have started to accept him. Just as Brad is starting to feel confident in his role, the family receives a call from Dusty, the children’s father. He is coming back to town. The kids are excited, Brad is hopeful, and Sara is anxious. Dusty quickly makes it clear that he has come back to reclaim his family.
The Adoption Connection
Brad has wanted to be a dad for years, but is unable to father children because of a medical complication. Through his marriage to Sara, he has become a dad, and has earned the love and trust of Megan and Dylan with his dependable love. His relationship is challenged when Dusty comes back on the scene. Although this is not an adoption story, some adoptive parents will resonate with
Brad’s long-held desire to be a parent, and some may cringe at the harsh treatment of Brad’s infertility. Others (perhaps especially those who’ve adopted from foster care) will recognize the struggle of identity between Brad and Dusty.
The kids obviously love both Brad and Dusty, and Sara is able to articulate that the kids have two dads.
This is kind of a spoiler alert – Brad and Dusty do learn to work together and act as co-parents.
Brad is a dedicated dad to Megan and Dylan, and encourages Dusty to be dedicated to them as well.
One usually untrustworthy character does get one thing right, “The worst thing you can do is push out the biological (dad).”
This film could be hard for viewers with unresolved grief around infertility.
Megan initially expresses her displeasure at having Brad in her life by drawing a series of pictures of him dying – and at least one in which Megan is killing him. This doesn’t seem to concern anyone.
Dusty is very disrespectful towards Brad, and undermines Brad around Megan and Dylan.
Brad expresses, “I’m not their real dad.” The word choice is unfortunate.
Daddy’s Home isn’t a good choice for kids, but it could be interesting for adoptive parents. As you watch it, explore your thoughts about birth parents – what are they like? How can you interact with them? How can they be involved in the life of the children? Notice which parts of the film seem realistic and which seem overly fanciful.
Questions for Discussion
What’s the difference between a father and a dad?
What makes someone a “real” dad?
How many people can be “dad” to the same kid?
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Adoption themes (especially step-parent adoption themes) show up pretty frequently in Disney movies. Separated from their parents – or in conflict with their parents – children and teens have to grow up and face the world alone – maybe with the help of a romantic interest or a few friends. Sometimes, Disney stories are pretty problematic from an adoption perspective; other times, there’s a lot of good to celebrate.
While this list is far from comprehensive, here are some Disney films with adoption themes. I’ve gone ahead and linked the titles of the films to the respective Adoption Movie Guide.
Angels in the Outfield – Two boys in foster care strike up a relationship with a baseball coach. Pros: They have become like brothers in foster care, and are adopted together. Cons: The relationship with the coach initially is dependent on what benefits the coach thinks he will get from the boy being around.
Frozen: Two girls – Elsa and Anna – are orphaned. The family has long kept a secret about one of the daughters (it’s not adoption), but the secrecy has driven a wedge between the sisters and has kept them from enjoying each other’s company. This film shows (among other things) how secrecy builds isolation, loneliness, and broken relationships.
The Jungle Book: Mowgli, a human, is being raised by wolves, a panther, and a bear. He is ultimately presented with the opportunity to return to a human village. The film seems to offer its answer to the question – “Where do you belong?”- I think Tarzan and Tarzan 2 might have handled this issue better. More on that in a second.