Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Dropbox Adoption Movie Review

When a Korean man named Pastor Lee became the father of a boy with severe special needs, he wondered why God had chosen to give him this child, but quickly changed his heart and accepted his son as a gift. Pastor Lee, inspired by his son, saw that within his neighborhood, infants were being left alone and untended, and he came to believe that children with special needs were perhaps more likely to be treated in this way.

Pastor Lee speculated that these children were being abandoned because their parents feared shame. In an attempt to increase these infants’ chances of survival, the man constructed a system where the infants could be left in a heated, safe place rather than on the street.



The recent documentary, The Dropbox, shares the history of how he began these efforts. He also shares his process – the children are brought to social services, and then enter foster care.

The documentary is more balanced than I was expecting. It raises questions, perhaps most importantly asking, how a system like this can be helping kids when it allows for them to be left without detailed records and no way to reconnect with their birth family. Pastor Lee’s answer acknowledge that his system is not ideal, and he looks forward to a day when his society changes to be more accepting of the pregnant young women, when they will no longer feel pressured to hide their maternity.

The film ends with a collage of children who were placed in this man’s box, who are now thriving to different degrees.


How Does This Connect to Adoption?

The man is an adoptive parent, and it seems that many of the children that have gone through his home have also been adopted.


Strong Points

The man is kind and good-intentioned. He believes that his society does not value the lives of children with special needs as much as it ought. He believes that life is sacred, and so he acts in accordance with his beliefs to protect these children. He believes that each life has a purpose, and notes that children with severe disabilities are able to change, teach, and challenge us.

The film doesn’t blindly approve of his method of helping. It acknowledges that background information is lost, and even asks whether this system is ultimately positive. The film seems to suggest that it’s not ideal, but that it is an improvement over what had been happening in his neighborhood.

One young boy is particularly inspirational, in that he has overcome significant physical disabilities and teasing at school in order to become successful, popular, and class president.


Challenges

The letters that accompanied some of the infants left with Pastor Lee are read. They are sad letters, flowing with parental guilt and shame. The emotions are real, but may be uncomfortable for some viewers with grief due to loss connected to similar circumstances.

A story is related to illustrate Pastor Lee’s view of his culture which may be very hurtful to some viewers, perhaps especially young kids. We are told that a baby died in the care of a hospital. One worker cried, and a nurse unfathomably asked, “Why are you crying? It’s only an orphan.” The story is told to illustrate the environment at the time, but it’s hard to hear.

One child explains, “I don’t know my birth parents. The parents who raised me are my real parents.” I like that this kid is thriving in his current home – and he really is! He’s also sounding well-adjusted to his adoption. I struggle with his choice of words, and young viewers might not realize that it’s OK to view birth parents and adoptive parents as “real parents.”


Weak Points

The film’s name is unfortunate. “Dropbox” sounds too similar to “garbage bin.” The intent of the box, and of the film is more thoughtful than the name suggests, and I think the film probably alienates some of the adoption community simply through being unfortunately titled.


Recommendations

There’s such a focus on abandonment in this film that I don’t think I would recommend it for most kids. Children who have been adopted might be impacted by the film in a painful way. Children who haven’t been adopted might confuse abandonment with adoption. For adults, and perhaps for teens, the film is an invitation to ponder on the value of life, the need to protect it, and the implications of the ways we choose to act to protect it.


Questions for Discussion

The Dropbox has been received differently by different viewers. Some people say it’s wonderful that Pastor Lee is helping kids. Others criticize him for perhaps making it easier for children to be abandoned. Others would say that the children are already being abandoned, and he is acting in an imperfect situation. What do you think?

This film encourages viewers to face their prejudices. How should respond to children with severe and profound delays and special needs?

What law changes in the US could help adoptees directly? Which could help adoptees indirectly by shaping culture?

The film suggests that being abandoned as an infant won’t necessarily condemn a child to a miserable life. What do you think?

What can you do to help?


Cinderella (2015) Adoption Movie Guide

Ella’s childhood is charmed. She lives happily with her mother and father. They teach her to be kind, have courage, and believe in magic. Tragedy strikes, and keeps striking, when Ella’s mother dies unexpectedly from an illness. Ella’s father spends the next several years sad. Then, he becomes remarried to Lady Tremaine, Ella’s new stepmother. The stepmother’s two daughters, Anastasia and Drizella, do not take a liking to Ella. Shortly after the marriage, Ella’s father also dies while away on business, leaving Ella in the care of (or rather, at the mercy of) her stepmother and two stepsisters. They make her do menial work and exclude her from the rest of the family. They rename her “Cinder-ella” because of how dirty she gets while doing the work. Cinderella runs away into the woods, where she finds a handsome young man. She leaves without giving her name, so he sets up an elaborate ball to try to find her. With kindness, courage, and a little magic, things will probably work out for Cinderella.



OK, I mean, spoiler alert, but I’m thinking you probably already know the story.

This film is paired with a charming Frozen short film, where Elsa attempts to throw a surprise birthday party for Anna. It’s lighthearted and fun, and most young kids in the audience will like it.


How Does This Connect to Adoption?

Ella experiences the loss of both parents, and is raised by a family who is not related to her – and the new family gives her a new name.

The issue of identity is also brushed on. Lady Tremaine attempts to forbid Ella from something on the authority of being “her mother.” Ella replies, “You are not, and never will be, my mother.”

After her mother’s death, Ella clings to one of her mother’s dresses, because it helps Ella feel a little like her mother is still there.


Strong Points

Ella is able to say goodbye to her mother. She is able to give her consent to her father’s remarriage. 
While Ella’s life does get very hard, these are two positive things.

Ella remains kind and courageous, even when life is hard.

Ella has a very positive relationship with her father. Her life is impacted for good by her mother’s influence on her, even after her mother dies.


Challenges

Ella’s mother dramatically falls ill on camera. Ella is able to mourn her mother’s impending passing, holding tightly to her mother. Her mother tells her, “I must go very soon, my love. Please forgive me.” Ella tearfully says, “Of course I forgive you,” and then the family tearfully embraces on her deathbed. While, for Ella, this might be a helpful aid in the grieving process, it might very, very sad for young children in the audience, or for viewers who have lost a parent to death.

Some viewers might find the subsequent death of Ella’s father also very sad.

*Spoiler alert but not really* Ella falls in love with the Prince. His father is also dying. In fact, the only parental figure in the whole film who doesn’t die is Ella’s stepmother.


Weak Points

I’m not sure if it is helpful to people touched by adoption when the plot of a film can be summed up by the statement, “Your new family is evil and hates you.”

Ella’s stepmother hides away all of the mementos of her birthmother.

Viewers who have been abused might be triggered by the way that Ella’s family mistreats her, even referring to her by a new, insulting name, which is somewhat reminiscent of the treatment of Dave Pelzer in his memoir, “A Child Called It.” The family bars Ella from pleasurable activities and does not allow her to eat in their presence. Her stepmother requires Ella to call her “madam.” The stepmother also rips apart a dress that Ella inherited from her mother. The stepmother also tells Ella, “You’re a ragged servant girl. That’s all you’ll ever be.” It’s brutal.


Recommendations

I watched this one with my wife and two kids who are like nieces to us, a nine-year-old and a five-year-old. The nine-year-old’s review: “I liked it but not the sad parts.” The five-year-old: “I liked the part when she was a baby.” I agree with my young friends. There are happy moments, positive messages, and a happy ending, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s sad. Both of the kids I watched it with cried during the film, and I can imagine it being hard for young kids, and especially for viewers who have experienced mistreatment by adults in charge of them. It might be best-suited to ages 10 and up, and even then, parents should be there when their kids see it, and process it afterwards. This might also be a good one for parents to screen first.


Questions for Discussion

If you had a fairy godmother, what would you ask her to do for you?

Is it worth showing kindness, even when people are unkind to you?

What elements of Ella’s treatment by her stepmother are realistic? Which are unrealistic?


The film suggests that “the greatest risk is to be seen as we truly are.” What do you think about that?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Six Good Movies for Kids Under 8

I’m not sure when it exactly happens, but at some point, kids develop enough of an attention span to sit through an 80-minute movie. This allows parents some reprieve from the early-childhood diet of 20-minute cartoons and even shorter YouTube videos. Fortunately, some movies geared for kids manage to be pleasing to parental palates while also engaging, entertaining and even inspiring young viewers.

Here are several films that are entertaining for parents, appropriate for young grade-schoolers, and which also offer positive portrayals of adoption issues. I’ve reviewed each of these films in full; click the hyperlinked titles for the full review.

Why not pick one or two of these to watch together this weekend!
1.      
      Big Hero 6 – This Disney/Marvel superhero origin story is fun and fast. When the young protagonist, Hiro Hamada, is faced with the traumatic loss of his brother, he processes it realistically and healthily. He keeps his brother’s memory alive through honorable work. Big Hero 6 will keep kids and adults engrossed, while encouraging creativity, acceptance of loss, forgiveness, honor, and perseverance. Adoptive and foster families can also notice how Hiro honestly addresses his feelings regarding the losses he’s experienced, and how he manages to move forward. ****



2.       Ernest and Celestine – This French film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (Frozen ended up winning the award that year). It’s the story of a bear and a mouse – two creatures from cultures that fear each other. They overcome a rough start to become friends, and then a sort of family. Watching this movie feels like reading a favorite children’s book. It encourages friendship and understanding. It has a fairy-tale feel without being scary very often. Adoptive and foster families can also notice how Celestine the mouse enjoys hearing the story of how she and Ernest became a family. ***1/2


3.      Frozen – OK, your kids might have seen this one already once or twice. Let it go. In Frozen, two sisters who have lost their parents demonstrate how powerful sisterly love can be. The film cautions young girls from being swept off their feet by charming but manipulative boys, and also encourages people to embrace who they are and acknowledge their feelings, rather than keeping them packed away. Adoptive families may resonate with the bond between the sisters which is threatened and then strengthened by the difficult circumstances they’ve experienced. Adoptive families may also resonate with the film’s depiction of secrecy as something which causes rather than prevents pain. ****


         Despicable Me 2 – Former super-villain Gru is now a doting, caring, and nurturing adoptive father to Margo, Agnes, and Edith. He has found new employment – as a super-villain-stopper. In one of the funniest scenes, Gru has dressed up as a fairy princess for one of his daughter’s party. She knows that it is him, and thanks him. Agnes, Gru’s youngest daughter, wishes for a mother. A school project requires her to recite an ode to her mother, which she finds difficult, being the daughter of a single dad, with no knowledge of her birthmother. What I like most about this one – other than the fact that it is entertaining – is how adoption is just a normal part of life. The Gru family is a healthy, functional, close family that just happens to have been formed by adoption. Sometimes, life goes like that. Adoptive families can also notice how hard it is when school projects don’t quite fit the experiences of their children (family trees come to mind), and can prepare to address these issues with sensitivity. ****


5.       The Tigger Movie – Winnie the Pooh’s bouncy friend Tigger has often sung that the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is… “I’m the only one.” In his own movie, though, Tigger wonders why he is the only one, and where the other Tiggers might be. His friends try to cheer him up, and have some good ideas (supporting him), and a disastrous one (tricking him), and ultimately Tigger runs away. He doesn’t find the other Tiggers, but is able to grasp how dearly his friends love him, and he ultimately accepts them as his new family. Adoptive families can notice how Tigger’s feelings of loss and longing are real and valid, and can encourage their young viewers to be honest about their feelings, too. **1/2

6.       Kung Fu Panda 2 – This excellently entertaining film features Po, a Panda, who learns at long last that he was adopted by his father, a goose named Mr. Ping. Amidst the work of defending his community, Po embraces his heritage as a Panda while also embracing his identity as the son of a goose. Adoptive families can also notice how hard it was for Mr. Ping to share Po’s story with Po, but also notice that the story was helpful to Po’s understanding of himself. ****


Those are my six picks for kids under 8. Please weigh in below with your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

McFarland USA Adoption Movie Review

After losing a high school football coaching job because of his temper, coach Jim White relocates his family to McFarland, California. White and his family initially find it difficult to adjust to life in McFarland; the community is predominantly Hispanic, while the Whites are Caucasians, and the community’s main industry is field labor. As a teacher and assistant football coach, White learns that many of his students have to work before and after classes. The school’s dismal football record inspires White to start a cross-country team, which is joined by seven boys from the school. Unexpectedly, McFarland’s running program thrives. This film is based on a true story from nearly 30 years ago, and so at the end, we learn what became of each of the boys.



The Adoption Connection

There aren’t direct adoption connections in McFarland, USA. Some viewers might resonate with the family’s initial discomfort, but eventual acclimation to and acceptance by, a new culture. The Whites wrongly mistrust some of their neighbors. Some young viewers who were taken into foster care because of domestic abuse might be bothered when one teenager is given a black eye by his father.

Strong Points

This film is heartwarming. Throughout the film, we see that initial impressions aren’t always correct, and that there’s often much more to people than is apparent at first glance – and that what’s hidden can often be kindness and potential.

The community in McFarland embraces the White family, even organizing a quinceanera for her.

*Spoiler alert* Almost all of the boys grow up to attend college and return to serve the community of McFarland. *End Spoiler*

When the parents of his runners encourage them to focus on work instead of dreams of sports and college, White advocates for the boys, even when it involves helping out in the fields.

Challenges

Jim seems to lose work because of his explosive temper. The tension between Jim and his wife is sometimes palpable. Either of these things could be challenging for some young viewers, if it reminds them of traumatic experiences they’ve had.

One boy sits on the edge of a bridge, overlooking the freeway, apparently thinking about jumping. Jim talks him down, encouraging him to thrive in his future. This scene reminded me of a scene in Martian Child, where a father figure reassures a youngster who’s looking for an escape.

One father tells his son to stop dreaming of college, because “no one ever needed a book in the field.” Later, this father applauds his son’s athletic success.

Recommendations

McFarland USA is a fun, uplifting, feel-good and optimistic true story that shows that people can overcome difficult circumstances, and even their past mistakes. Because of some scenes reminiscent of domestic violence, I wouldn’t recommend this to young kids, but it could be a very positive experience for parents to share with their kids between the ages of 12 and 16.


Questions for Discussion

What did the community of McFarland learn from the White family?

What did the White family learn from the community of McFarland?

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t fit in to a group of people? Did you ever find out that you did fit in, after all?


What makes a home a home?
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