Donnie Johnson is in trouble. The pre-teen is in a juvenile hall and continues getting in trouble for fighting other boys. When a kind woman takes him into her home, he begins to learn about his history; he never met his father, but he finds it powerful to learn about him. Donnie grows into a young man who follows in the footsteps of his father, a famous professional boxer. All the while, Donnie struggles with what it means to have a father he doesn’t know; he tries to create his own identity and wrestles with what it means to inherit rather than create some of his identity.
The Adoption Connection
This movie has lots of adoption relevance.
Donnie Johnson quickly learns that he is the son of Apollo Creed, perhaps the greatest boxer in history, whose matches with Rocky were legendary. Donnie did not know this for the first several years of his life, and upon meeting someone who knew his father, quickly asks what his father’s name was. Donnie was born after his father died; his mother is a woman with whom Apollo had a brief affair. After Donnie’s mother died, he bounced around the protective services system, and lived in foster homes and group homes. Donnie is visited by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne. She offers to take him in, and he accepts. She becomes a mother to him and raises him, although she temporarily rejects him when he insists on leaving behind a good job in order to pursue boxing.
Donnie struggles with what it means to have a father that he never met. *SPOILER ALERT: He ultimately embraces his heritage and changes his last name to his father’s last name. He is able to express that he is proud to be a Creed. However, prior to this, he reacts negatively when people call him by that last name. END SPOILER **
Donnie also finds a sense of family in Rocky; he begins to call him “Uncle.”
Mary Anne tells Donnie, “You are your father’s son, and you’re part of him, but it doesn’t mean you have to be him.”
Donnie leaves a life of privilege to pursue a life in line with what he knows of his heritage.
Rocky suggests that, even though Donnie’s father died before Donnie was born, Donnie is angry at his father for abandoning him, and that Donnie needs to forgive him.
Many characters comment on the similarities between Donnie and his father. One character refers to him as “the living embodiment” of his father.
Mary Anne is a very loving mother to Donnie. She brings him into her home, life, and heart. She is not scared away by his negative behaviors, and empathizes with his sense of loss, “I’ve lost, too.”
Donnie initially tells Mary Anne, “I don’t have a father.” She corrects him, noting that not having met his father does not mean that he did not have one.
Donnie finds a sense of family from two people who knew his father. By learning about his past, he found relationships to guide his future.
At one point, Rocky is asked, “Apollo Creed’s son looks at you and says family?” Rocky responds, “I’m a lucky guy.”
One character asks Donnie what he would tell his father if he met him. Donnie’s words convey a healthy acceptance of his history, heritage and identity. **SPOILER ALERT: He says, “I love him. He didn’t leave me on purpose. I’m proud to be a Creed. It’s excellent. END SPOILER ***
This is a movie about a boxer; there is some on-screen bleeding and one unsettling injury.
*SPOILER ALERT – although Donnie considers Rocky an uncle, their relationship is strained. Rocky has received some harrowing news. In a moment of stress, he tells Donnie that they are not really family. Although Rocky immediately regrets what he says, it takes time to repair that relationship and Donnie accuses Rocky of “getting my real family killed.” END SPOILER **
One character faces a life-threatening illness. People who have watched a loved one undergo a similar experience might find these scenes hard to watch – however, the characters involved demonstrate courage and love for each other.
Some characters comment on the fact that Donnie was conceived of an affair, and refer to him as “an embarrassment” to the Creed family and a “mistake.” He fights to correct this conception.
One character makes a very insensitive comment about Donnie’s father being dead.
One character calls Donnie a “fake Creed.”
For a while, Mary Anne does not communicate with Donnie; he continues to call her. This does feel a little like parental rejection, which could be rough for some viewers.
I wasn’t expecting this – but Creed is one of the best adoption-relevant movies of the year. Creed approaches issues of identity and unmet parents with honesty and integrity while telling an inspiring story and depicting very clearly that family is created where love exists. There is a sex scene which earns the film its PG-13 rating, and the boxing violence is bloody, but with parental guidance, most teenagers could enjoy and benefit from this one. Strong recommendation.
Questions for Discussion
How can relationships recover after hurtful words have been said?
What makes a family a family?
What would you tell your first parents if you could?