Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kids' Rights Adoption Movie Review

Olga and Michael are a dating couple who wish to adopt a child. They hope to film their adoption process, and also fear that they will not be approved; after all, when Elton John and his partner attempted to adopt a child from the Ukraine, they were denied. Olga and Michael interview actual and hopeful adoptive parents, governmental officials, and adoption professionals in an attempt to understand what they call “the business of adoption.”

How Does This Connect to Adoption and Foster Care?
Kids’ Rights explores some of the fears and feelings that prospective adoptive parents feel. The documentary questions some of the adoption process as well as some of the decisions made by adoption professionals.

Strong Points
Olga and Michael interview a very wide range of people with a variety of connections to adoption. I was particularly impressed that they included David Pelzer, the author of "A Child Called 'It'."
 Olga allows herself to have her preconceptions challenged and changed.


Sometimes, the filmmakers come across as entitled. They assert that people have the unalienable right to have children, and then try to apply this to adoption. They question the right of an adoption agency to deny an applicant for adoption. The film argues that it is unfair that prospective adoptive parents have to meet criteria to adopt, while biologically “you just need to have sex,” and suggests that it is wrong that children are in orphanages while people who want to parent are turned away. They lament that adoption agencies “look for flaws rather than for strengths.” They do interview one set of adoptive parents who affirm the value of the home study process, but often seem unconvinced themselves. The film does capture the frustration and pain felt by people in the adoption process, but their focus seems to shift between meeting children’s needs and meeting adults’ needs.

The documentary feels one-sided at times.  Elton John’s application for adoption was denied, and the filmmakers argue that it is “absolute madness” because the family would have adopted the child “and even his older brother,” and because Elton John has done much to help the AIDS crisis in Ukraine. My impression from the film is that the denial was due to Ukrainian governmental prejudice against same-sex couples; this did play a part – Ukrainian law only allows adoption to married couples and does not recognize same-sex couples as married.  Some other facts are also presented, but do not appear to be weighed in the film’s condemnation of the denial: Ukrainian law stipulates a maximum age gap (45 years) between adopter and adoptee, which was not met in this case. Also, the children in question were ultimately released from the orphanage to the care of their grandmother. The film seems dismissive of the birth family, unsympathetically relating news of the death of the children’s mother, and suggesting that the grandmother will not be able to meet the financial burden caused by the children’s medical needs.
Overall, my impression of the film is mixed. The film condemns a range of adoption practices, but in the end, Michael and Olga decide that they should face their fears and pursue adoption. I value their heart for children, and I empathize with the pain, fear, and frustration that people feel as they navigate the adoption process. It is painful to perceive unethical behavior in adoption agencies. And yet, not everything that Michael and Olga question is bad. I work in foster care adoption, and the children that I serve have often experienced great loss and trauma. It seems safe to say that most children who are adopted have experienced at least some significant loss. Adoptive parenting requires some skills and conversations and considerations that are not required in other situations, and it’s because of this that there is a need for adoptive families to have extra training and evaluation. Adoption is different than conceiving a child biologically, and although it may seem and feel unfair, it does call for some heightened requirements. And, as the film points out, some of the requirements themselves are unfair and unnecessary. But not all of them.
Weak Points
The film feels inflammatory and insensitive at times. When explaining that only handicapped children can be adopted from one country, a graphic depicts a healthy child sitting locked in a bird cage, while a child in a wheelchair gleefully breaks free. The film’s narration also uses terms like “the war against kids,” which makes it easy to question its objectivity. The filmmakers question how a parent could allow themselves to give up their child.

I felt the film was largely but not totally one-sided – but I’m reviewing it from the perspective of an adoption professional. The tone of the film seems to soften towards the end, and that the frustrations expressed earlier in the film are real, common, and understandable. I would be interested to know how it comes across to an audience of folks with other connections to adoption. If you watch it, I’d encourage you to weigh it carefully. Which points do you agree with? Which do you disagree with?

Questions for Discussion
How do reproductive rights and reproductive desires differ from each other? How does each of these interplay with adoptee rights?
Which parts of the adoption process were the most frustrating?

Should adoptive parents be required to submit to a criminal record screening before being approved for adoption? How about interviews with a social worker? Should training be required?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

17 Things Wrong With Dumb and Dumber To (Dumb and Dumber To Adoption Movie Review)

Lloyd and Harry are back. These two less-than-clever friends play profound jokes on each other. As the film opens, Harry learns that the last twenty years of his life have been largely wasted due to one of Lloyd’s jokes. Now, Harry has told Lloyd that Harry’s kidney is failing. When Harry and Lloyd visits Harry’s parents, they inform Harry that they can’t donate to him because they’re his adoptive parents rather than his “real parents.” But, while there, Harry discovers a note from a former girlfriend, sent 20 years ago, telling him “I’m pregnant. Please call me.” Harry and Lloyd set out to find Harry’s newly-discovered adult child in the hopes that this unknown individual will provide Harry with a kidney. Along the way, they discover that she was relinquished for adoption; when they meet her adoptive family, they stumble into a dangerous situation as a sinister stepparent plots to kill her husband.

How Does This Connect to Adoption?
Dumb and Dumber To is profoundly tied to adoption, but it’s not in a good way. The portrayals of adoption in the film are painfully done and will probably be offensive to many.

Harry is Caucasian, and his parents are both Asian. When he asks them to donate a kidney to him, they reveal that he was adopted. Harry believes that he has an adult daughter, Penny, who was adopted away as an infant.

Penny’s birthmother discusses Penny’s adoption, “I gave her up for adoption because I was broke and scared. I regretted it as soon as I did it.”

Penny, who has trouble with big words, describes Harry as her “biographical” father. It’s an interesting word choice.

Positive Points

An elderly couple, whose son died decades ago, learns that they have a biological, adult granddaughter. They embrace her, and are delighted to welcome her into their family.

At times, Harry seems to be thinking about the responsibilities of parenthood. He does take time to imagine what parenthood would have been like.

Penny’s birthmother intends to respect Penny’s wishes about contact. More on this under Weak Points, though.

Penny’s adoptive father loves her. She eventually is reunited with her birthmother and they get along very well.

Penny’s adoptive father is receptive to Penny’s birthparents trying to find Penny.

Lloyd and Harry are, at times, selfless in their friendship for each other.


There are a lot of problems. Here are some of them:

The plot of the movie centers on Harry trying to find his daughter in order to get one of her kidneys.
Harry asks Lloyd, “What did I ever do” for my child. Lloyd suggest, “you filled him with wonder – as in, I wonder who my deadbeat dad is.”

Lloyd and Harry talk about the fortunate aspects of Harry’s life. Lloyd says that if some tragic circumstances hadn’t happened, then Harry “wouldn’t have a bastard kid that’s gonna save your life.” Harry agrees, “Yeah, God’s sure got a sense of humor.” Lloyd adds, “Yeah, I bet he smokes weed.”

When Harry’s parents disclose that he is adopted, the conversation uses some unfortunate word choices. They explain to him, “We love you, Harry. You’re not our real son. You’re adopted… Sorry, we thought you knew.” Lloyd tries to encourage Harry by saying, “Your real parents are out there,” but he is curtly interrupted by Harry’s father, who says, “Your parents are dead.” – That ends the conversation.

Lloyd tells Penny about Harry by referring to him as “your real dad. The guy who abandoned you when you were a child.”

Penny’s adoptive stepmother is trying to kill her adoptive father, and is also trying to isolate Penny. When Penny’s birthmother wrote a letter to contact Penny, Penny’s adoptive stepmother intercepted the letter, and wrote “return to sender and never contact again.” For years, Penny’s birthmother thought that Penny wanted no contact, when in actuality Penny never knew about the letter.
Lloyd becomes attracted to a picture of Harry’s daughter, and fantasizes about Harry telling him (very crudely) to have sex with her. Later, Lloyd comes to believe that Penny is actually his own daughter.

Penny’s adoptive mother calls her a “bitch” and tries to murder her.

At the end of the film, we learn that neither Harry nor Lloyd could be Penny’s father, because they never had sex with her mother. They just didn’t know that sex was a critical part of producing babies.

Penny’s adoptive father expresses that he “didn’t know much about Penny’s natural parents. Just that she had a single mom who was a titanic whore.”

In general, the paradigm of “titanic whore” birthmother and “dumb and dumber” birthfather opposed 
to millionaire philanthropist scientist adoptive father is unhelpful.

Penny’s adoptive father and birthmother have sex within about 15 minutes of meeting. They quickly decide to move in together.

Penny’s adoptive father eventually refers to her birthfather as a “ten-year-old.”

Lloyd and Harry indicate that they’d be less interested in meeting Harry’s daughter “if she has AIDS.”

At one point, Harry expresses his desire to “protect my daughter.” Lloyd ridicules him.

Harry’s parents kicked him out of the house when he told them he was gay; they have not had contact for 20 years, even though they live a block away from each other. Harry is not actually gay, but he said he was in an attempt to be relieved of his chores.

Penny’s birthmother is desperate to meet her, but she is told by an uncaring employee, “You’ve waited 22 years, what’s another few hours.”

Lloyd and Harry are supposed to be idiots; those are their characters. Along the way, though, they say some things that, while intended to highlight their own ignorance, could also be painful or upsetting for some viewers. One character encourages another to be glad that he hadn’t conceived children with a red-headed woman, asking, “Would you really want ginger babies?” One character is called a “titanic whore.” One character makes fun of an elderly lady’s Asian accent. Ethnic stereotypes are used in attempts at humor. Lloyd and Harry harass a blind neighbor. Jokes are made about the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. Lloyd and Harry speak insensitively to a couple whose son died years ago. An elderly lady tricks Lloyd into fondling her genitals.


Dumb and Dumber To will probably solicit some laughs from many viewers, and it does have some healthy relationships – Penny’s adoptive father loves her, and her birthmother does as well – but, in general, from an adoption point of view, it’s a train wreck. It’s one of the rare films that I’m going to go ahead and not recommend at all.  The theme of a man searching out his heretofore unknown, adult children was also covered in Vince Vaughn’s Delivery Man. That film was also humorous, but portrayed a much less selfish picture of the birth father. That’d probably be a better choice.

Questions for Discussion

Why do you think Penny’s stepmother tried to keep Penny from knowing her birthmother?

How damaging do you think it is for films to portray birthfathers as largely self-centered?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interstellar Adoption Movie Review

When a crop blight causes the nitrogen levels in the earth’s atmosphere to rise the future of life on earth is threatened. People will either die of starvation due to the impending scarcity of food, or of suffocation, due to the impending lack of oxygen. When all seems lost, a former astronaut named Cooper uses apparently supernatural data found by his teenage daughter Murph to discover NASA’s secret headquarters. Once there, he is enrolled in a mission to preserve the future of the human race. He must leave Earth – and his children – behind in order to take a many-year journey through a wormhole to try to discover another inhabitable planet to allow humanity to continue.

How it Connects to Adoption (spoilers ahead the rest of the way)
Cooper is a widower; he lives with his teenage kids and an older friend. He encourages his son to learn how to change a tire, reminding him, “I’m not always gonna be here to help you.”
When Cooper chooses to go on his mission, he realizes that he does not know when he will see his children again. His daughter and son both feel abandoned by him, and it colors their adult lives. Some adoptees may resonate with the anger that Cooper’s children feel towards his absence.
A large batch of cryopreserved fertilized eggs accompanies the astronauts on their mission, with the intent that they will be used to populate the new world, while ensuring genetic diversity. Nothing was mentioned as to whether those children would know who their genetic parents were.

Strong Points
Interstellar is beautifully shot, and creates a large world for the viewer’s imagination to explore. We see the inside of a black hole, a journey through a wormhole, and several beautiful new worlds – one that seems to exist atop frozen clouds, another with an ocean with waves of mountainesque height. The film conveys feelings of adventure, awe, and exploration.
The film talks about the power of love, as something that can transcend time and space – and even death – after all, we love people that have passed on. In a way, that reminds me of themes I’ve recently seen in Big Hero 6 and The Book of Life – that our memories of people can keep them alive within our hearts and minds. One character also asserts that it’s the yearning to be with other people which is the very foundation of our humanity.

Because Murph is angry at Cooper for choosing to leave, she refuses to tell him goodbye. She does not see him again until she is very elderly, and then their meeting is very brief. The scene where Cooper tries unsuccessfully to make peace with her before leaving may be very difficult for viewers where parental separation is a tender area. Cooper begs her, “Don’t make me leave like this,” but Murph yells, “You have no idea when you’re coming back.” She eventually runs after him, but does so too late, and is unable to say goodbye. Murph experiences her feelings of abandonment very powerfully. She screams that her father “abandoned us, [and] left us here to die.” At one point, Murph’s brother tells her to leave and never come back. Murph’s eventual reunification with Cooper may offer hope; however, Murph’s assertion that she knew she would see him again, because he had made a promise to her might be painful to viewers who have been lied to or let down by the promises of adults in parental or caretaker roles.

As in Big Hero 6, a loved character is willing to sacrifice his life in order to save another. It’s noble, but could also be painful for people struggling with grief related to loss of a loved one.

Weak Points
Several adults in positions of trust lie to save themselves, to promote their own interests, or to avoid allowing others to face difficult truths. These lies put others in danger. Because of the lens I review film through, this does seem analogous to the reluctance of some adoptive parents to discuss adoption with their children; it might be hard to talk about, but dishonesty is always harmful.

Interstellar is a beautiful, moving, and long (almost 3 hours) exploration of outer space and inner human nature. Its untrustworthy adults, repeated instances of loss and run time make it likely to be a poor choice for kids, but it could be a reflective and hopeful film for teenagers and parents to enjoy together.

Questions for Discussion
If you could go back in time to give your kids some guidance, what would you tell them? What if you could do the same for your parents?

Why did the professor lie? What would have happened had he told the truth?

One character says that people care “deeply about those we know” but not about those who lie beyond our line of sight. What do you think?

One character asks what the use is of loving those who have died. What do you think?

What makes us human?

One character says, “I’m not much for pretending we’re back where we started; I want to know where we are and where we’re going.” What do you think – what’s the value of remembering the past? How do we find a healthy balance between remembering and honoring the past (rather than ignoring it), and living in the present?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Big Hero 6 Movie Review

In the futuristic city San Fransokyo, a young genius named Hiro Hamada is inspired to join his older brother Tadashi as a student a prestigious robotics department, run by famed professor Robert Callaghan. Hiro is inspired, in part, by his brother’s invention – an inflatable, personalized health-care robot named Baymax. However, an explosion in the university takes the life of Hiro’s brother, leaving Hiro depressed and disinterested in technology. An interaction with Tadashi’s robot compels Hiro to resume his training, and also reminds him that Tadashi is still with him, in his memory (a similar theme of remembering those you’ve lost is present in another recent release, The Book of Life). Through his work, Hiro makes friends with Tadashi’s former colleagues – and with Baymax; together, they work to uncover the mysterious cause of the explosion that claimed Tadashi’s life.

The Adoption Connection
Hiro is familiar with loss in his family. Both of parents died before the movie, and he and Tadashi are being raised by Aunt Cass, the single sister of one of their parents who lives above her coffee shop. When Tadashi dies, Aunt Cass is the only family that Hiro has, until he eventually finds a connection with Tadashi through Baymax’s programming.
Strong Points
The short film before Big Hero 6, “Feast” is a truly funny piece on love, centered on food, from a dog’s point of view. The theater I was in laughed, in unison, several times at this one.
Aunt Bess is very loving. Even when she is frustrated at Tadashi and Hiro—they had gotten arrested – she still affirms that she loves them.

Tadashi is a committed big brother. He guides Hiro into making good decisions, and also affirms that, even if Hiro makes bad decisions, he won’t leave him alone.

Hiro recovers from a very hard loss in a very realistic way. After Tadashi’s death, Hiro exhibits understandable and realistic depression, and finally recovers through the love of family and friends, memories of his brother, and his own efforts. He can provide a model of recovery from loss. At one point, Hiro even faces the loss of his brother in order to explain it – sensitively and sadly, but honestly – to Baymax. Hiro tells Baymax that Tadashi is gone. Baymax asks when he will return. Hiro replies, “He’s dead, Baymax.” Baymax comments that Tadashi was healthy and should have lived a long time. Hiro answers, “People say he’s not really gone as long as we remember him, but it still hurts.” It’s a very honest and direct discussion of death, loss, and sadness. Baymax calls several of Hiro’s friends in an effort to help Hiro find happiness.
Because he reflects Tadashi’s personality, Baymax is selfless and heroic. This inspires Hiro to be a forgiving person.

A theme that shows up in lots of movies is – how do you respond to loss? Hiro is tempted towards revenge, but ultimately is persuaded away. Meanwhile, another character pursues revenge and suffers because of it.

Baymax is willing to sacrifice himself to save a stranger’s life, and for a while it seems as though Hiro has lost even him. I wondered if that scene might be empowering – here, Hiro had the choice of whether to experience the loss, and he willingly chose loss in order to save someone.

 ** SPOILER ALERT ** Thankfully, at the end, this loss is reversed.

Professor Callaghan’s revelation as a villain is unforeseen; he had seemed like a potential mentor/father figure at one point.
The explosion that kills Tadashi is loud, bright, and unexpected. It could be hard for young kids who have come to love him or identify with him as a caring older male relative.
There is a scene with more chaos and destruction than you’d expect. Callaghan tries to destroy an industrial complex by sucking it into a portal. This leads to the film’s climactic battle. It’s a good sequence, though it might scare some young children.

Big Hero 6 is a fun, action-oriented film that will appeal to a wide audience, from kids to adults. Although the losses experienced by Hiro might painfully remind some viewers of losses they’ve experienced (through foster or adoption), Hiro’s processing of his losses are realistic and healthy. Big Hero 6 gets the Adoption at the Movies recommendation for kids ages 7 and up, with the suggestion that parents watch and process the film with their kids.
Questions for Discussion
How did Hiro feel when Tadashi died? How did he act?

When do you think he started feeling better? What helped the most?
Is it possible to still be sad about a loss, and also to be feeling better, at the same time?

If your friends were superheroes, what would their superhero names be?

Have you ever wanted revenge on someone? How did it turn out? How did you feel at the end?
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