Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rio 2 Adoption Movie Review - Crosscultural Adoption, Reunification, and Merging Cultures

Blu and Jewel were, as far as they knew, the only two Spix’s Macaws left in the world. They paired and now have three young children. They rejoice in their love for each other, and they enjoy life, with Jewel sharing elements of her upbringing in the rainforest and Blu sharing elements of his domestic lifestyle. Then, Jewel finds out that her family is still alive in the rainforest. She, Blu, their children, and two friends take flight to reunite with Jewel’s family. Jewel is excited. Blu is nervous; will they accept him?

As this reunification is happening, evil antienvironmentalists try to destroy the rainforest, and a villainous cockatoo tries to extract revenge against Blu.

How Does This Relate to Adoption?

There are so many angles to view this film from.

Blu had thought that he and Jewel were alone. Now that she has family to reunify with, he questions his importance to her and wonders whether he still has a place in her life. He asks, “It wasn’t all bad, was it?”

Jewel is excited to reunify with her family and is especially elated for her father to meet her children. She tells Blu, “we need to connect our kids to our roots.”

Blu’s and Jewel’s children are excited for the trip.

Blu’s friends are cautious about the danger that Blu may be entering.

Jewel’s family and community are wonderfully happy to have her back, and enlist her in the life of the community.

Jewel’s father is delighted to see Jewel, pleased beyond measure to learn that he is a grandfather, and rather unimpressed by Blu.

Blu and Jewel were both (more or less) adopted by humans. Jewel’s family strongly distrusts humans. Jewel’s father is mortified that Blu actually likes humans. This film surprisingly touches on the interplay of crosscultural adoption and racism/prejudice. Blu is eventually accepted by his father-in-law, and his father-in-law does eventually see that not all humans are evil.

Powerful Moments

Jewel and her group find Jewel’s community – and her father. She wonders why no one ever found her. Her father tearfully explains, “I had you under my wing and you were gone. I’ve looked everywhere for you.” They express how they’ve missed each other. Her father says, “It’s OK now. Daddy has you.” They embrace. He praises who she has become, “My little girl, all grown up, so beautiful, just like your mother.” He finds out that he’s a grandfather and bursts into song, embracing all of his newfound family, except for Blu. The community throws a huge party to celebrate their return. Blu feels somewhat displaced, especially when a former boyfriend of Jewel’s seems to express interest in her.

Positive Elements

When Jewel goes to reunite with her family, she is not alone. She is accompanied by her children, her husband, and their friends. This sense of a shared journey reminds me of the documentary Closure. Adoption reunifications can be scary and emotionally-charged events. Having the support of those who know and love you means a lot.

Challenging Points

Now that Jewel and Blu have found the tribe of Spix’s Macaws, will they return to Blu’s home, or stay in Jewel’s childhood home. Jewel and Blu do not seem to easily agree on this point, and Jewel’s family pressures them to stay. It’s easy to see how Blu feels displaced. I wonder if Jewel ever felt similarly displaced while adjusting to life outside of the rainforest. Jewel’s father disapproves of the “city” aspects of Blu’s lifestyle and basically orders him to change. At one point, Blu expresses that he will never fit in and wonders if he should just go home. Jewel does not understand him. She says that “maybe this is home,” and criticizes him for thinking only of himself.  At the same time, when Jewel’s family suggests that she leaves Blu, she affirms, “Blu is my family and I’m not leaving him behind.”
The issues of mixed emotions regarding reunification could be confusing to the young children this film is geared towards.

Weak Points

Some small, cute animals are eaten to humorous effect. The film is set in the rainforest, so it does make sense, but little kids might cry.


Rio 2 is a mildly-entertaining film that does seem likely to please young viewers, maybe ages 5-9. It’s surprising that such a kid flick has such wide applicability to issues of adoption reunification, but it does. It could open the way for some worthwhile conversations.

Questions for Discussion

If your family participates in reunification, how do you imagine blending the two cultures? How do you balance a sense of belonging between the two families?

When you think of reunification, which character do you most strongly relate with? How would you have felt in their position?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Finding Vivian Maier Adoption Movie Review

Finding Vivian Maier is the story of a reserved, quirky nanny who secretly took a hundred thousand photographs during her life. Her photographs were posthumously discovered and published. Through her pictures, we are given a look into everyday life in the middle of the twentieth century. Documentarian John Maloof is inspired by the photographs and tries to discover who Vivian was.

It turns out that she was a complex person. Perhaps influenced by her own past, she was fearful of men and alternated between being tender and abusive to the children in her care.

The Adoption Connection

Finding Vivian Maier reminds me of foster care. As a live-in nanny, Vivian provided regular care for the children of others.

Also, the nature of the documentary – trying to discover who someone truly is from the evidence you’ve been able to collect – reminds me of the work I’ve done in foster care and adoption. When I wrote homestudies, my job was to develop and convey thorough knowledge and assessment of a family’s personalities, history and lifestyle. Other social workers are charged with a similar task for the children. And still other social workers are responsible for trying to place foster children with families that will be able to meet their specific needs. I notice the importance of thorough assessment (though not vilification) when I see how Vivian’s painful past impacted her care of the children.

Positive Elements

People are interesting. Vivian Maier seems to have gone unnoticed for much of her life. This documentary opens her life story and shows that she is a fascinating and complex person. It allows for a viewer to take a well-rounded view of her, and to accept her as a person, rather than to view her as a categorizable collection of her most prominent quirks. Included in that holistic view is the thought that people’s behaviors are impacted by their life experiences. A holistic view of a person allows for love, grace, patience, forbearance and compassion – and certainly is helpful in relationships between foster/adoptive parents, birth family members, adoptees and foster kids.

One interviewee notes that Vivian “really wanted to be part of their family,” but expresses that it didn’t happen. That’s pretty sad, and it might resonate with teens in foster care. Vivian had deep emotional needs which went unseen by those closest to her. That seems likely to be true in many foster families, and in many families touched by adoption – and that’s why it’s so important to initiate open and honest communication in foster and adoptive families.  

One interviewee describes Vivian engaging in what would have to be classified as child abuse; this could be a trigger for some viewers.

Finding Vivian Maier might be a hard film to find.

Negative Elements

One interviewee mentions that Vivian “might have been offended” that the documentarian was unpacking her life. I do see how this film could be seen as a violation of her privacy. That is uncomfortable, upon reflection.


Finding Vivian Maier will appeal to some adults. It’s a well-made documentary with a good musical score, and it provides an intriguing look into a unique and complex life. It isn’t aimed at kids or teenagers.

Questions for Discussion

What does it mean to know someone fully?

What will you leave behind when you die? How will people know who you were?

Whose behaviors have left you scratching your head lately? How can you respond to the behavior without vilifying the person?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ernest & Celestine Adoption Movie Review

Mice live below the city, and bears live above ground. Mice are scared of bears, and believe that bears will eat them. Bears are scared of mice, because… well, I guess just because mice are scary to them. They probably wouldn’t have any interaction with each other, except for the fact that mice often lose their teeth, and bear teeth make great replacements. Young mice are sent above ground to scavenge replacement teeth. One young mouse, Celestine, gets trapped above ground. She is discovered by a bear named Ernest who has just awoken from hibernation. He is very poor and very hungry. Through quick thinking, Celestine becomes his first friend instead of his first meal, but neither the society of mice nor the society of bears are prepared to accept their friendship.

How is This Relevant to Adoption? 

*** Spoiler alert ***
Although Ernest and Celestine mostly have a friendship, at the end of the film, Ernest recounts the story of his relationship with Celestine, and he edits it to make it sound like an adoption story. When viewed retrospectively as an adoption story, the film seems to show two cultures opposing a crosscultural adoption, but finally coming to accept it when they see that it helps society rather than hurting. Celestine appears to be raised in an orphanage. She is ostracized for being a friend to Ernest. Although he tries to send her away, she says, “I’m all alone. Nobody loves me and I don’t have a home.” He eventually embraces her. Ernest and Celestine eventually develop a mutually nurturing relationship. It’s not a perfect picture of adoption, but it is nurturing, cute and heartwarming.
Ernest and Celestine each express that their desire is to live with each other forever.

*** End Spoiler

Strong Points
Ernest and Celestine are able to develop a mutually nurturing, positive friendship with each other, even though they are from different cultures.

Eventually, we get an understanding of the fears Ernest and Celestine have of each other. They have nightmares about each other. Ernest fears that Celestine will drain his resources. Celestine fears that she cannot trust Ernest.  But each character comforts the other, and offers the reminder, “I am not your nightmare.”

Ernest and Celestine eventually win societal permission for their friendship, but only after they perform acts of heroism.

When Ernest initially finds Celestine, she is in a trash can.

Weak Points

One character briefly appears likely to eat another. A grandmotherly figure tries to scare children in to obedience with nightmarish bedtime stories.


Ernest and Celestine seems to be a generally kid-friendly film. It is animated in a style that reminds me of fairy tales. It is a heartwarming story, and scenes of peril are quite mild and frightening moments are limited to only a few.   It’s possible that some young children will be scared by the grandmother-figure’s bedtime stories. The crosscultural adoption connection is both vague and positive, which makes me think that triggers are unlikely, but that children may be able to take positive messages away from the film. This is one of my recent favorites. It was also one of the films nominated for Best Animated Feature in this year's Oscars, along with Frozen, The Croods, Despicable Me 2, and The Wind Rises.

Questions for Discussion after the movie

Have you ever been teased for having friends or family who are different from you in some ways? How do you feel about the teasing? What parts of the teasing are untrue?

Why were Ernest and Celestine scared of each other? Were their fears true? Have you ever been scared of something that turned out to not be true?

How would you tell your own adoption story? Spend some time writing and/or illustrating it together.

Interested in Ernest and Celestine? Check out the trailer here:

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Visitors Adoption Movie Guide

Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors is a wordless, black-and-white film. It’s more meditative than it is entertaining, but I think that’s OK. Philip Glass’ soaring but somewhat looping music creates a pensive and relaxing atmosphere for Reggio’s long, slow-motion close-ups of human faces. There’s not much of a plot, so what I’m sharing here are the thoughts and questions I had while watching the film.

 -          The subjects are entranced by something off camera, and seem unaware that their reactions are being filmed. So many times, we are self-aware, but what are we, when we’re not aware of what we are?

-          There are so many faces. So many people. And each person has a story, and value. So do you. So do I. And yet, so often we lose sight of the awesome creativity and wonderful depths in each person we encounter. Sometimes we even lose sight of it in ourselves. There are so many people in close proximity to us that we don’t know, and as unrealistic as it is, I want to know everyone’s story. “It’s impossible to know someone fully, and then not love them” – Ender’s Game, paraphrased. 
-          Many children are featured. Who will they grow up to be? Why do some of us grow up to become untrustworthy?

-          Plants, people, and water look lively and animated in time-lapse videos. Manmade structures look stagnant.

-          We’re really pretty when we smile.

-          I wish I spent more time interacting with people, and less time interacting with technology.

-          We can look down and out, or cheerful and thriving – but we’re all people, no more, no less. But we each have been given the creative potential to shape the world by creating kindness in our relationships to others.

-          We probably have more “needs” than we need to.

How This Connects to Adoption

Visitors doesn’t really have an obvious plot, so, I guess it doesn’t obviously connect to adoption. Here are some thoughts that I had, though:

-          Everyone has a story.
-          Everyone has the creative potential to shape themselves, at least to some extent.
-          It’s easy to feel alone, even when unknowingly surrounded by people who have similar stories to your own.

Positive Aspects

People are interesting.

Negative Aspects

The film is probably too artsy to hold the interest of kids or teenagers, and limited distribution might make it difficult for adults to find. Also, I think the film really needs to be seen in a theater; it wouldn’t translate well to a home screen.

Questions for Reflection

Who do you see, every day, that you don’t know very well?

What don’t you know about yourself that you would like to know?

If you could grow in any way, what would it be?

If you could create one thing this week what would it be? 
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