Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mixed-Remixed Festival: Short Films About Mixed Ethnicity

The third annual Mixed Remixed festival took place earlier this month at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The festival provides a safe place for people to express, share, and explore their experiences as people of multiple cultures. My introduction to the festival came two years ago when I attended to support Brian and Angela Tucker, whose film Closure was screening that year.

Each year, the festival features stories, workshops, panels and films on a range of topics. As a film reviewer, I spend most of my time in the theater. This year’s festival included short films and a couple web series which be interesting to parents of multiethnic or mixed-ethnicity children. Children who have been adopted might also resonate with feelings of mixed ethnicity, and while these films aren’t geared towards kids, parents might use the films for some informal self-education to prepare for challenges their kids might eventually face, and identity-development work that their kids may eventually do.





Some of the highlights from this year’s films:

Almost Asian is a YouTube comedy series following Katie Malia’s daily life in Los Angeles as a woman of half-Japanese, half-German ancestry. (Find more here)

Maya Osborne: Confessions of a Quadroon introduces Maya Osborne, a spoken-word artist who has powerfully captured her thoughts on her biracial identity. (Hear Maya’s poem performed here). The documentary centers around Maya’s poem, and also asks her parents for their thoughts on their daughter’s developing identity. (See the 11-minute documentary here).

Good Luck Soup documents a grandson’s exploration of his famliy’s Asian heritage. (see the trailer here).

Invisible Roots interviews members of three families of African descent who have roots in Mexico but have moved to Southern California (find more here).


The festival happens each year, around June, in Los Angeles. Stay tuned on Twitter @mixedremixed or check out their website (mixedremixed.org) to learn about the next one; and hey, if you decide to come to LA for the festival next year, reach out and let me know. Maybe I’ll see you there! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Adventures in Babysitting review

High-achieving but super-structured Jenny and free-spirited but irresponsible Lola are both competing for the same photography internship. They have accidentally switched phones, and so Lola receives a babysitting request intended for Jenny. She needs the money, so Lola poses as a friend of Jenny, and accepts the work. She’s overmatched by the task, and chaos breaks out in the home; Jenny learns of this, and hoping to salvage her reputation, she brings the kids she is babysitting at another home in an attempt to help Lola restore order before the chaos is discovered by either set of parents. 

However, one of the teens under Lola’s care has decided to run away, which sets off a chain reaction putting the babysitters and kids into more and more difficult situations, including being pursued by some low-level criminals, and being forced to rap on stage about babysitting. Most of their problems could have been solved if they had called the parents to ask for help, but Jenny is too scared to do so; after some close calls, the kids and babysitters make it home and the parents are none the wiser. Jenny even has time to bring the whole crew to a concert so that she can greet a boy that she likes. 

An ending scene suggests that at least one parent has an idea of what happened.

Adventures in Babysitting might appeal to kids ages 6-9 or so, and parents could use the opportunity to point out how a safe adult would have reacted, had they been asked for help. No adoption connection in this one. The characters feel a little clich├ęd, and some kids much older than 9 – and their parents - might find it hard to stay interested. The young kids who might enjoy it probably could use some parental guidance, regarding the characters’ attempts to hide their needs and problems from the adults.


Adventures in Babysitting will premiere on the Disney Channel at 8 PM (Eastern/Pacific) on Friday night, June 24. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Finding Dory Adoption Movie Review

Here’s our spoiler-filled review of Finding Dory. Read through to the end for our review of Piper, the short film which accompanies Finding Dory in theaters. Don't forget to Like us on Facebook, and Subscribe to get each new review delivered to your inbox!

A year after she helped clownfish Marlin rescue his son Nemo, the forgetful blue fish Dory starts remembering flashes of her own childhood, and remembers that she was swept away from her parents. Although she has found a sense of family with Marlin and Nemo, she remembers that she used to live near California. Going only on that, Dory becomes determined to find her parents, but her quest will be very challenging because of her pervasive short-term memory loss, which generally keeps her from remembering anything for longer than a few seconds. Because he remembers how bad he felt when Nemo was lost, Marlin agrees that he and Nemo will accompany Dory as she tries to find her parents.





Along the trans-oceanic journey, Dory remembers more and more about her childhood. She is separated from Nemo and Marlin, but eventually she reaches the aquarium where she was born. In the aquarium, she enlists the help of old and new friends to explore many exhibits in an attempt to find her parents. Although she is reunited with Marlin and Nemo, and finds a community of blue fish like herself – even some who know her parents – her parents are not there, and she is told that it is believed that her parents died trying to find her.

Dory is separated from Marlin and Nemo again, and finds herself in the open ocean, where she remembers something her parents told her about how to find them. She does find her parents, who have been steadfastly working to find her ever since the ocean took her away. Dory is happy to be with her parents, but remembers that Marlin and Nemo have been separated from her; she declares that Marlin and Nemo are also family to her, and so she leaves her parents to find Marlin and Nemo. Eventually, Dory manages to gather Marlin, Nemo, her parents, and some other friends together, and they decide to start a new, shared life. As the film ends, Dory is surrounded by her whole family – her original parents, and the friends that have become family to her.


The Adoption Connection

Dory lost her family after being swept away by an undertow. She has a hard time remembering them, and feels somewhat guilty for having lost them. At one point, she acknowledges that she does not remember where she grew up. She does believe that she’ll recognize her parents since they will look like her. She expresses that she greatly misses them, and decides that she must find them. She wonders whether they will still love her, since she feels responsible for losing them, but she finds that they have been waiting and longing for her return. Viewers who have been adopted or who have experienced foster care may resonate with many of Dory’s feelings: longing for birth parents, unwarranted guilt about the circumstances that led to their separation from birth parents, a sense of a loss of control, a sense of confusion and chaos, and dreaming of a happy reunion. When Dory does find her parents, she lets them know that Marlin and Nemo have become her family as well, and together they craft a new understanding of family which includes everyone that has come to love and care for Dory.


Strong Points

Father-and-son fishes Marlin and Nemo remember what it was like to be separated from each other, and this empathy helps them support Dory in her quest. It’s always good to see a person’s quest for reunification be supported by those they love; in Closure, Angela is accompanied by her extended adoptive family; in Rio 2, Jewel is accompanied by her husband and kids. Finding Dory captures that support, as well.

Finding Dory isn’t a story about adoption, but like folks who have been adopted (perhaps especially adopted from foster care), Dory has been swept away from one family into another, and she longs to reconnect with her first family. Finding Dory seems to embrace the concept of “Both/And” that Lori Holden has introduced – Marlin and Nemo have not replaced Dory’s need for her parents; finding her parents does not replace her need for Marlin and Nemo. It’s not that only one group can be her family – both groups are her family.

Dory is aware of her short-term memory loss, and wonders whether her parents will ever forget her, or whether she will ever forget them; they assure her that they will always remember her, and that she will never forget them.  

One fish challenges Dory, asking how she can know that she has a family if she has short term memory loss. She replies that she must have come from somewhere, and, of course she has parents, and even if she forgets their names or faces, they do not stop existing. That’s an important concept for adoption, too. An adopted person’s birth parents don’t stop existing just because they aren’t mentioned in conversation – and as Dory also shows – finding one’s original parents does not negate one’s newfound family.  


Even though Dory is not constantly thinking about her childhood, the memories are all in her mind, and certain events trigger her to remember them. Some adopted folks don’t pursue relationships with or information about their birth parents, but then later decide to when they’re triggered by some event in their lives. Just because you’ve approached it one way for years doesn’t mean that you have to approach it that way for the rest of your life.   

When Dory wonders whether her parents will want to see her, her friends assure her that they will be overjoyed to see her. Her friends are very supportive. When she meets her parents, they are truly ecstatic.


Challenges

Dory wanders away from Marlin and Nemo – and gets separated from them – when Marlin hurts Dory’s feelings with some carelessly chosen words (he tells her that the thing she is best at is forgetting.) Nemo continually reminds Marlin of his unkind words.

Some kids might find it very difficult to see young, helpless Dory swept away from her parents, and then wandering alone asking strangers for help. They might also find it very sad when Dory becomes discouraged and starts to believe that she will not find her parents. They might also find it painful when, on several occasions, Dory comes close to finding her folks, but gets disappointed at the last moment. It’s very sad to hear her say that she was too late, and that she does not have family. She even describes herself as being completely alone and says that she has lost everyone. A kid behind me in the theater started crying right around then.  Although the film reaches a happy ending – and Dory does find her parents – the emotional roller coaster could be hard for some viewers with a real-life parallel experience.

Nemo wonders aloud whether Dory finding her parents means that he and Marlin will have to say goodbye to her. Marlin initially thinks that it will mean that, but it doesn’t turn out that way.

One character unkindly suggests that Dory probably lost her family because of her poor memory. Dory has struggled with self-doubt about whether she should blame herself, too. But thankfully, when the blame is presented by an external source, Dory is able to challenge it. Her response is strong: she says that it is wrong to say that she would lose someone she loves.


Weak Points

One character suggests that Dory should just pick a couple fish that look like her and pretend that they are her parents.


Recommendations

Finding Dory has some hard scenes involving parental loss and self-blame that could be hard for some viewers, but the overall theme appears to be positive and inclusive for adoptive families; your family will never forget you, and if you have two sets of family, one does not replace the other - they can both be your family. 

Parents should make sure that their kids can handle the hard parts (prescreening this one might be a good idea) – Dory’s disappointments and sadness will be too hard for some kids – but otherwise this one seems to have a lot of potential for kids ages 8 and up or so.


Questions for Discussion

Now that Dory has found her parents Charlie and Jenny, are Marlin and Nemo still her family, too?

Why did Dory decide to try to find her parents?

What do you think Marlin and Nemo felt like as they were helping Dory find her parents?

Do you ever miss your first family? If you could choose who you saw every day, who would you see? 

How do you feel when your life doesn’t exactly match what your dream life would look like? What parts of your life make you sad? What parts make you happy?

Do you ever worry about forgetting people who are important to you? How can we help make sure that our family will remember everyone that we care about?  (This is a good opportunity to collect or draw and display pictures of everyone your child loves, cares about, and considers family, and parents can join too, including people that they love and have lost to death or distance, to help show that even though adoption is unique, the experience of separation from loved ones is something that you can understand to some extent).  

Dory sometimes feels like it's her fault that she and her parents got separated. How would you help her realize that it wasn't her fault? Do you ever blame yourself for something that might not be your fault? 

Short

Finding Dory is paired with the short film, Piper, the story of a baby beach-bird learning to feed itself. After getting used to being fed by its parent, the baby is surprised when its parent flies away and does not bring back food. The baby must learn to find its own food. On its first outing, the baby is hit by a large wave; this appears to traumatize it, and it cowers back in its nest. The next wave it sees, even a long way away, terrorizes it. However, hunger motivates the baby bird to try again, and an unexpected friend teaches the baby that the waves can be helpful in finding food; the thing that had most scared the baby bird is actually an opportunity for success. Armed with this new information, the baby bird becomes the most prolific food gatherer of the flock, and takes unbridled joy in the very thing that had once paralyzed the baby bird with fear.


This short will give parents the opportunity to talk with their children about things that have scared them; perhaps parents could help kids reflect on fears that they’ve overcome, and then apply that concept to fears that currently scare them. Parents can also point to a scene where a small wave is seen through the baby bird’s mind as a near-tsunami. Fears look different to different people. Some young viewers who have been neglected might find it hard to see the baby bird going hungry, and might resonate with a scene where the baby bird shakes in terror.  Over all, though, Piper is beautifully done and at its heart has an encouraging message for kids (and adults) who sometimes find the world unbearably frightening – you can get through this!

Wait, There's More!

Here are some other reviews you might want to read:

Zootopia

Kung Fu Panda 3

Inside Out

Disney Movies and Adoption

Piper Adoption Movie Review


Finding Dory is paired with the short film, Piper, the story of a baby beach-bird learning to feed itself. After getting used to being fed by its parent, the baby is surprised when its parent flies away and does not bring back food. The baby must learn to find its own food. On its first outing, the baby is hit by a large wave; this appears to traumatize it, and it cowers back in its nest. The next wave it sees, even a long way away, terrorizes it. However, hunger motivates the baby bird to try again, and an unexpected friend teaches the baby that the waves can be helpful in finding food; the thing that had most scared the baby bird is actually an opportunity for success. Armed with this new information, the baby bird becomes the most prolific food gatherer of the flock, and takes unbridled joy in the very thing that had once paralyzed the baby bird with fear.


This short will give parents the opportunity to talk with their children about things that have scared them; perhaps parents could help kids reflect on fears that they’ve overcome, and then apply that concept to fears that currently scare them. Parents can also point to a scene where a small wave is seen through the baby bird’s mind as a near-tsunami. Fears look different to different people. Some young viewers who have been neglected might find it hard to see the baby bird going hungry, and might resonate with a scene where the baby bird shakes in terror.  Over all, though, Piper is beautifully done and at its heart has an encouraging message for kids (and adults) who sometimes find the world unbearably frightening – you can get through this!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TMNT: Out of the Shadows Adoption Movie Review

The supervillain Shredder is broken free from police custody with a teleportation device, but it unexpectedly brings him into the presence of Krang, an alien warlord bent on destroying the Earth. Krang makes a deal with Shredder that, if Shredder collects the items that will let Krang take over the Earth, Krang will help Shredder deal with his nemeses, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

Meanwhile, the Turtles have retained their anonymity; they fight crime in the city, but believe that the public would fear them if they knew of them – after all, these vigilantes are giant, anthropomorphic turtles. Shredder has created an ooze that can turn humans into anthropomorphic animals, and the Turtles have learned that, if they obtain the ooze, they can also use it to turn themselves into humans. 

Some of the turtles want to try to live a “normal” life, while Leonardo insists that they must stay true to themselves by staying turtles. This disagreement drives a rift between the brothers, who must get along with each other before they can hope to save the world.  (Spoilers ahead)




The Adoption Connection

Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo are four teenage brother turtles who have been adopted and trained by Splinter, a rat. They view him as both their father and their sensei, and he trains them to be good ninjas and good brothers. The turtles are outsiders to society at large, but their love the city feeds their desire to be part of mainstream society – but it would be at the cost of a major part of their identity. The turtles are split on how to proceed, but eventually decide to retain their identity as turtles.


Strong Points

Splinter encourages his sons to be loyal to each other, saying, “as long as you keep the team unified, you will always succeed.” Splinter counsels Leonardo to consider his brothers’ differing viewpoints, telling him that different points of view can make a team stronger, and that “a good leader understands it, and a good brother accepts it.” Leonardo eventually accepts Splinter’s advice, and defers a major choice to his brothers.


Challenges

Leonardo leads the Turtles (Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but rude, and Michelangelo is the party dude). When Donatello tells him about the potential to become humans, Leonardo decides against it and tells Donatello not to tell the others. Michelangelo overhears this, though, and tells Raphael. Raphael is infuriated, not because of Leonardo’s decision, but because of Leonardo’s secrecy. Raphael accuses him of lying and asks him “Where’s the honor in keeping secrets from your brothers?” Leonardo’s response (it’s not lying, it’s “compartmentalization of information”) seems to only aggrieve Raphael further. Leonardo also tells Raphael that the only vote in the family that counts is Leonardo’s.  


 Recommendations

There’s a lot of action in this one but nothing stuck out as particularly scary. The film is less scary than its 2014 predecessor, so if your kids handled that one OK, this one should be fine. In generally, it seems like a good fit for ages 11-15.


Questions for Discussion

Have you ever felt like your siblings were your family “but not your team?” What made you feel that way?

Have you ever felt like your siblings (or family) were not just your family, but also your team? What was that like? Tell me about a time when that was how you felt…


If you were one of the turtles, would you have used the ooze?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass Adoption Movie Review

In the wake of her father’s death, Alice Kingsleigh has sailed the sea on his boat, the Wonder. After more than a year away, she and her crew return, but Alice’s happy homecoming is quickly turned to sadness as she learns that she must either lose her father’s boat or her mother’s house. Before this can be resolved, Alice is whisked away to Underland, where one of her friends struggles with accepting a profound loss. The Mad Hatter has come to believe that his family is still alive, in spite of a widely-known tragedy which marked the last time his family was seen alive. Alice believes that she must travel through time to prevent his parents’ deaths, but that journey risks destroying the world. Will she make it in time, or will her task bring about the end of Time itself?






The Adoption Connection

There are no adoption themes, but there are themes of parental loss and family strife. Alice has lost her father; now she struggles with the thought of losing one of his dear possessions. The Mad Hatter’s whole family has been taken from him, although he believes they are still alive. Two sisters suffer from a deep hatred caused by a long-held secret.

Some kids who long for family connections that they have lost might resonate with the Mad Hatter, who falls into a nearly fatal depression when no one believes that he can reunite with his family.

A character says “You have a family… very important thing, a family. You only have one.”   

(SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY)


Strong Points

When a long-held secret is finally disclosed and apologized for, healing happens.

A character affirms, helpfully, that you “can’t change the past, but you can learn from it.”

Every hurt heart is healed, and every broken familial relationship is mended by story’s end.

The film shows how important it can be for someone to be believed. Being disbelieved sends the Mad Hatter into depression, and the Red Queen into anger. Being believed brings hope and healing.


Challenges

We see scenes where the Mad Hatter is ignored, belittled, and shamed by his father. Although his father loves him, the Mad Hatter never knows it; his father only tells him that he’s proud of his son when his son manages to save him.


Weak Points

A music box presented to a cruel character features a decapitation. It’s bloodless, but it could be disturbing for some viewers.  


Recommendations

It’s interesting to see the different family-related struggles that are overcome by various characters. Alice must accept her father’s death in order to move on with her life – and she has to decide how to combine keeping his memory with living her life. The Hatter has been separated from his family, but refuses to accept their ultimate loss, and he is able to reunify with them. Two sisters have lost many years to a feud that could have been solved by a simple admission of truth and an apology.

Alice Through the Looking Glass has been roundly panned by critics, and I found it hard to follow, but in reflecting on the film, some of the family dynamics are interesting and worth seeing. The film seems best suited to kids ages 9-12 and their parents. 

Questions for Discussion

How did a secret hurt the Red and White Queens?

If you could travel in time, would you? When would you like to travel to?

Is it true that you can only have one family?

We all have a limited amount of time; what do you hope to do and be with the time you have this day, this year, and this lifetime?

Has anyone ever thought you weren’t telling the truth when you were? Has anyone ever believed you when you told the truth but didn’t think people would believe you?

Is there anyone that you’ve lost contact with that you wish you could see again?


The Mad Hatter felt like he didn’t deserve his family name; why do you think he thought that? What would you tell him, if he told you that?
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