Tuesday, July 17, 2018

For A Better Life - documentary short review (spoilers)

(Spoilers ahead)

As a young boy in Tunisia, Fekri Kram was saved by a French tourist who prevented a shopkeeper from cutting off Fekri’s hand after Fekri had stolen bread. The tourist then followed Fekri home – and his life changed for the worst. Fekri’s mother sold him to the tourist in hopes of giving him a better life, but the life he experienced was horrific. Fekri was sexually abused and physically brutalized by the woman, and he came near death before he was finally rescued from her. Even in foster care, Fekri’s life was difficult; a suicide attempt led him to a residential treatment center, where after nearly a decade, he found healing, and was finally able to forgive his mother.

In this powerfully-narrated, animated documentary short (10-minute) film from Yasmin Mistry, Fekri shares his story. Foster and adoption agencies could consider incorporating this film as part of their training curriculum, and, for people considering becoming foster or adoptive parents, Fekri’s vulnerable sharing of his own life experiences can be simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring. This one is recommended for adults.

As you watch it, imagine what life experiences your kids may have had. How can you help them feel safe talking to you about them? How might their life experiences show up in their behaviors? What would be the most helpful parental responses in situations where a child’s troubling behavior is reflective of the abuse they’ve previously experienced?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tomb Raider Adoption Movie Review

Lara Croft’s father left years ago, and never returned. Lara has been reluctant to claim her inheritance because she does not want to believe that her father may be dead, however, when she does claim it, she begins to uncover clues as to the destination of his last journey. Lara bravely sets off to try to find her father.


The Adoption Connection

Lara has been looked after by one of his father’s associates, who seems to have ulterior motives. Lara misses her father, and continues to hold out hope that he will return. She eventually goes out to find him.

Strong Points

Lara is able to find closure with regard to her dad.


As a child and teenager, Lara is often left behind by her father as he pursues his life work. She begins protesting, but he always ends up leaving. This could be hard for some viewers.

A character lies, and brags that he killed Lara’s father.

Lara’s dad does die a gruesome death, as do other characters.

One character enslaves others and murders them when he finds them to be no longer useful.

Lara is attacked, but manages to drown her assailant by holding his head under water.

Lara does find her dad, but she loses him shortly thereafter.


Tomb Raider is (unsurprisingly) frightening and violent. Lara’s relationship with her father could be triggers for teens with issues of loss or parental abandonment, and it is a bit disturbing that her guardian is untrustworthy. The frightening and violent scenes of this film probably relegate it to teenagers, but for families touched by adoption, even teens might struggle with the intertwined themes of parental loss, untrustworthy guardians, abandonment, and violence. This one is probably safe to skip.  

Questions for Discussion

Have you ever thought about seeking for someone that you haven’t seen in a long time?

How do you think Lara’s dad’s work will impact Lara’s life moving forward?

Was Lara’s dad right to leave her behind so often?

Other Ideas

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor adoption movie review

In response to what he perceived as a barrage of flashy, insubstantial children’s programming geared towards turning children into consumers, Fred Rogers created programming that treated children as people with their own inherent value. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood placed value on imagination, but also talked with children about difficult real-world issues like death, divorce, and segregation. Won’t You Be My Neighbor looks beyond the show at the real Fred Rogers, who it turns out is very much like the patient, gentle, caring character he portrayed on television. This documentary is an insightful look at a person who served children in a unique and impactful way.  

The Adoption Connection

There is no adoption aspect to the film. If you’re interested, though, Mr. Rogers did write a book on adoption!

Strong Points

There’s a lot of good here; so much of Mister Rogers’ philosophy could be helpfully applied to parenting or working with children. Here are a few, paraphrased:

“There are so many difficult modulations of life, you’ve got to weave so many things; if you’ve got someone to help you, it is easier.”

“Love is at the root of everything… All learning, all relationships. Love. Or the lack of it.”

“Kids’ feelings are as powerful as adult feelings. Kids have deep questions [and if you take their questions seriously] you have passed the test, and can come into their lives.”

“I like you as you are. Children can’t grow unless they’re accepted as they are.”

“Respectful communication is the most spiritual thing I can do.”

“Kids need to be appreciated not for who they will be or what they will do, but for who they are.”

“One of the first things a child learns in a healthy family is trust.”

“Feelings are mentionable and manageable.”

“The most important part of communication is to listen.”

“Children need adults who will protect them from the ever-ready molders of the world.”

“Love is what keeps us together, and grief shows the depth of love.”

“Those who would try to make you feel less than who you are – that is the greatest evil.”

“You don’t ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you.”

“Everyone longs to be loved and to be loveable, and consequently the greatest thing we can do is help people know they can be loved and that they can love.”

One of Mister Rogers’ cast members found acceptance in Mister Rogers that he hadn’t found elsewhere, saying “I needed a man to tell me he loved me; he became my surrogate father [and told me] ‘I’m so proud of you.’”


Some news footage related to an assassination and some late night talk show clips could be out-of-bounds for younger viewers.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a well-made invitation to get to know a gentle, willful, intentionally impactful television star who genuinely used his position to serve children. While kids might not be entertained by the documentary, it is valuable viewing for parents.

Questions for Discussion

What messages might your kids need to hear from you about themselves?

What could help you talk to your kids about uncomfortable topics in a way that’s age-appropriate to them?

Who are the people that have invested in you? Who’s one person that helped make you who you are today?

Other Ideas

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Incredibles 2 (SPOILERS) Adoption Movie Review - Good Movie but Scarier Than You Might Guess

After the superhero family The Incredibles are unsuccessful in their attempt to stop a villain, the community sees the damage caused by their attempt, and the government moves to ban superheroes. The program that had overseen superheroes is shut down, and superheroes are obligated to stay in their secret identities; the Incredibles temporarily move into a motel and assume their given names – Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack Parr – and try to figure out how to avoid homelessness.
Out of the blue, Helen and Bob are called to a secret meeting, and there, Helen is invited to take part in a secret mission to rehabilitate the image of superheroes everywhere. To support her, Bob begrudgingly stays home, and discovers how hard it is to be a stay-at-home parent – and how “Incredible” his baby boy is. In the meantime, Helen works in the service of the two siblings who run DEVTECH – Winston, a devoted fan of superheroes, and Evelyn, a crafty inventor.


The Adoption Connection

Adoption is not part of the film. Kids who have been adopted may relate to the Incredibles being known under alternate names. Kids who have experienced insecurity of resources may find it uncomfortable to see the Incredibles living on the border of homelessness.
Evelyn and Winston’s life changed when their father was murdered by home intruders. Their father tried to call his superhero friends instead of hiding, but they did not answer their phones. When the intruders saw him on the phone, they shot him – we do see the barrel of the gun on screen. Winston and Evelyn share that their mother died a few months later. Winston continues to believe in superheroes; Evelyn rejects superheroes, blaming her father’s death on peoples’ tendency to allow themselves to be dependent on superheroes.

Strong Points

The Incredibles is accompanied by a nearly wordless, very touching animated short that captures a parent’s struggle allowing her child to transition into adulthood.

Mr. Incredible learns how hard it is to be an at-home parent, but with the help of a family friend, he begins to develop his infant son’s newly-discovered gifts.
Mr. and Mrs. Incredible genuinely care about doing good, and about their kids; Mrs. Incredible is often obviously aware of her family even when she’s in the midst of a high-stakes mission.

Even the villain demonstrates a lasting concern for her sibling.


Certain scenes involving flashing lights could trigger epileptic seizures. 

There are some surprisingly frightening scenes; Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are temporarily brainwashed, and attempt to attack their children. When Winston and Evelyn’s father is killed, we do see the barrel of the gun on-screen; this could be too frightening for some of the young children to whom this film is likely to appeal – especially if they’ve previously experienced or feared in-home violence. It falls to the children to rescue their unsafe parents, trying without adult assistance to free them from Evelyn’s control while avoiding their attacks; for most viewers, this will be fun heroism, but it could be difficult or confusing for children who, prior to entering foster care, felt responsible for their parents’ unpredictable, unsafe, or abusive behaviors.

Mrs. Incredible fights hand-to-hand against a frighteningly-masked, ax-wielding foe.

Violet’s would-be boyfriend forgets her when his memory is erased in an effort to preserve the s
superheroes’ anonymity.

Evelyn is upset that her father died waiting for heroes; she accuses her brother of conflating superheroes with his parents, implying that he believes he’ll reclaim his parents if he successfully restores legal status to superheroes. She mockingly frames his perspective as, “Mommy and Daddy left when superheroes did.” It might be rather insightful, but it’s also cruel.


Incredibles 2 is a fun film that will likely be regarded as a classic; it successfully blends humor and action while creating characters and relationships that are easy to care about. It’s also scarier than I was expecting; a nightmarish villain, and some surprising realism in the description of the murder of a father could be very troubling for young or sensitive viewers. I’d feel most comfortable recommending this to most kids ages 12 and up. Parents of sensitive kids, or of younger kids, should probably screen it before their kids do.

Questions for Discussion

Why didn’t the Incredibles want to hide their super powers? Did each character have a different reason?

Evelyn and Winston had the same loss; why do you think it impacted them differently?

Mr. Incredible depended on Edna to help him with Jack-Jack. Who are some people that your family depends on?

Which Incredible has the coolest super power? If you could pick a power, what would it be?

Other Ideas

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I Can Only Imagine Adoption Movie Review

When Bart’s mother leaves, he is left to be raised by his emotionally and physically abusive father. Bart’s father consistently tells him not to waste time dreaming or following his interests, but does encourage him to play football. An injury on the field leads Bart to a music class, and although a teacher discovers that Bart is gifted, his father is unsupportive. Bart ultimately leaves home to pursue a career in music, but he is quickly disheartened, and continues to have unresolved feelings towards his father. Fortunately, Bart is able to make peace with his father before his father dies, and his reflections on his father’s conversion to Christianity and subsequent death and anticipated arrival in Heaven lead Bart to pen the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” which brings inspiration to many and launches Bart’s musical career.


 The Adoption Connection

Some viewers may relate to Bart’s experiences; his father was abusive, and his mother left. They may also relate to Bart’s feelings towards his father – anger and pain at what has happened, but an eventual openness to forgiveness and reconciliation.

The film presents a connection between the discouragement Bart received from his father and Bart’s reaction to negative but constructive feedback from music executives. The scene highlights for me the fact that no behaviors or reactions exist in a vacuum, and most behaviors and reactions make sense within a certain context. Part of effectively parenting kids from hard places might be working to understand the internal contexts which inform their behaviors and reactions.

Strong Points

Bart ultimately forgives his father and finds healing. The healing that Bart finds also helps others to find hope and healing in the face of their own losses.  


Some viewers could be triggered by Bart’s dad; when Bart is young, his father burns a project that Bart had worked on. When Bart his older, his father physically abuses him, and he and Bart nearly come to blows.

Bart tearfully wonders what he did to make his mother leave him. We see him chasing after the van that is taking away the last of her belongings.


I Can Only Imagine could appeal to some older teenagers, but seems most likely to appeal to adults. Some viewers could be triggered by the abuse and abandonment that Bart experiences, but the film provides a good opportunity to reflect on the way that childhood experiences can impact a person’s behaviors and reactions into adulthood. For folks considering becoming foster parents, this film could be an invitation to begin thinking about the experiences that your kids may have had and how their undesirable and hard-to-understand behaviors might reflect their experiences rather than their character.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Bart react so negatively to the music executives’ negative feedback?

How was Bart able to forgive his dad?

What gifts do you have that you’d like to pursue?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I Feel Pretty Adoption Movie Review

Renee Bennett feels invisible and unconfident because of her body. In an attempt to change her life by changing her physique, Renee joins a cycling class, but suffers a serious fall which renders her unconscious. When she wakes up, Renee sees herself differently. She is amazed at her newly-realized good looks, and with her new confidence, her career soars but her friendships suffer. Can she find a balance between confidence and shallowness?  


The Adoption Connection
There is no adoption element to the story.

Strong Points
Renee eventually realizes that her physique never changed – only her confidence did. She affirms the importance of women accepting themselves as they are.
We learn that even people in positions of power have insecurities.

A sex scene and the general flavor of the film aims at an audience of adults and older teens. 

For adults and older teens, I Feel Pretty has a generally positive message accompanied by some off-color but laugh-out-loud moments. Some reviewers have felt that the movie is hypocritical – having a positive message but also making fat jokes – but it didn’t strike me that way. Good for adults, and possibly some older teens, but parents should pre-screen it to decide.

Questions for Discussion

What did Renee believe made the difference in how she felt and in her career trajectory? What actually made the difference?

Do you think it’s more important to look good or to feel good?  

Other Ideas

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