Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Girl Like Her Adoption Movie Review

Ann Fessler’s documentary, A Girl Like Her, revisits America in the 50’s and 60’s to explore the experience of single women who became pregnant then. Fessler blends the women’s own stories in their own words with 50’s- and 60’s-era sex education videos. The documentary is uncomfortable to watch. The sex education videos blatantly assign full responsibility for physicality in relationships to women; the women interviewed express that their parents reacted very poorly when they learned of their daughters’ pregnancies. One father called his daughter a whore. One mother “treated it like her own personal tragedy.” One family moved “so no one would know.” One religious leader told a mother that her baby would be “stuck in purgatory” unless she allowed an adoption. Some were forced to choose between relinquishing their baby or being ostracized from their family of origin. Their words are powerful. One explained, “I didn’t give him away. He was taken. He was never meant to be a gift.” Another related, “I felt like I had no choice.” One says, “No matter how many children you have, this emptiness is still there. Trauma attaches itself to you in a way that’s hard to undo.” Some women reported a sense of shame that followed them their whole life; one never even told her husband about the child she had earlier in life. One woman said, “You never get over this.” Fessler’s documentary captures the cruelty that was experienced by many pregnant women in this era, and the pain they experienced. It’s not easy to watch.

 It’s also difficult to see reflections of the approaches that adoption agencies utilized. One clip shares that “only children in good health are offered [for adoption so that they bring] happiness, not burden.” Another professional explains a desire to reserve “brighter children for [mentally] superior families.”

I think it is worth seeing, for prospective adoptive parents, though. There seems to be a widely-held misconception that adoptions have historically been closed and secretive. Some people pursuing adoption do so with a sense of entitlement to a child with no attachment to his or her birthfamily. This film is helpful because it shows where these expectations may have come from.

If you’ve spent time on adoption blogs, you’ve probably read the words of some people who have been hurt by adoption and who are generally quite strongly opposed to it.  Watching A Girl Like Her might be a safe way to understand where they’re coming from.

The film focuses on coercion, pain and loss. There aren’t really any happy stories. It’s not balanced within itself. But it can be part of a balanced film-based education for people pursuing adoption.


This is worth seeing if you’re considering adoption. Please especially think about seeing it if you’ve never considered an open adoption. It’s best-aimed at adults. It will be especially painful (but possibly affirming) viewing for parents who have relinquished children.

Questions for Discussion

What do you imagine about the parents of the child you will adopt (or have already adopted?)

What’s the difference between “finding a family for a child” and “finding a child for a family?”

What’s the difference between confidentiality and secrecy?

Recommended Reading

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Planes Fire and Rescue - Movie Review (Adoption Movie Review)

Cropduster-turned-pro racer Dusty Crophopper has a problem. His gear box is failing, which means that he will not be able to race professionally. His elderly friend, Mayday, has a problem too – he is no longer capable of maintaining safety at the local airport; the airport will be shut down unless Mayday can find an assistant firefighter – and in the hot season, that is no easy task. Dusty courageously agrees to become Mayday’s assistant, and so he sets off to a distant national park for training. While there, Dusty finds new friends as well as Blade Ranger, a potential role model for Dusty who has transitioned from an acting career into a long career as a rescue helicopter.  Dusty isn’t too good of a student, and his attempts at heroism put Blade in danger – however, through bravery, Dusty becomes a certified fire and rescue helicopter – this allows him to return home to help Mayday reopen the airport. Will Dusty also be able to return to pro racing? Well, it is a Disney movie…

 How Does This Connect to Adoption or Foster Care

Kids in foster care (or maybe, kids in general…) sometimes have difficulty regulating their emotions. Dusty has to be aware of his internal stress (OK, it’s torque… he’s a plane – but for this analogy to work, I’ve gotta stretch it a little). Dusty has a meter to indicate his level of stress, and a warning light that will go off to warn him when he is reaching a point of stress that would be harmful. This could be a helpful analogy and tool for kids – what’s your meter at? Is your warning light going off?

Positive Points

Dusty is a loyal friend. He also is able to deal with deep disappointment and to transition his attention and effort into other goals.

Dusty also highlights the importance of communication. Blade Ranger doesn’t understand why Dusty holds back his efforts until Dusty tells him that he’s having mechanical problems. Then, Blade softens his approach, encourages Dusty, and ultimately gets him the help he needs.
The film makes palatable the fact that even heroes have heroes – and heroes aren’t always the people who are celebrated by the general public.

Dusty is encouraged to be persistent; one character advises him, “Life doesn’t always go the way you expect, but if you give up, think of all [the good you won’t accomplish] tomorrow.” The character who gives 

Dusty that advice has lived it out – he lost a friend in a crash, and committed his life to doing good. Also, the film shows that you can heal from disappointment and loss.


The film will probably only appeal to younger viewers, and the scenes of fire are intense enough to be frightening to some. There are some jokes geared towards adults that young viewers won’t get, but might ask about.

Weak Point

One character seems to be Native American, but portrayal uses dated stereotypes for laughs; it’s a little disappointing.


There’s actually quite a lot of positive stuff to take from Planes: Fire and Rescue. I really like the concept of a “torque” meter, and I’ll suggest an activity based on that in a minute. The movie doesn’t have too much of a story, and it feels like it could have fit into 40 minutes rather than the 70 it actually takes, but little kids probably won’t mind. It probably is best suited to kids 8 and under.


When have you been disappointed so badly that you wanted to quit? What did you do?

What would have happened if Dusty quit training to be a rescue plane? Why did he keep trying? What finally happened?

Activity for After the Film

Why not make a “torque” meter for each kid (and adult?) in your family. Try a paper plate with a construction paper arrow, fastened by something that’ll let the arrow spin around freely. What an interesting way to enter into conversations about emotions and energy levels, and to facilitate self-awareness among your kids.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Adoption Movie Guide

Ten years ago, a virus nearly wiped out the human population of Earth. Apes survived, and developed their own civilization with signed and spoken language. The foundational beliefs of the ape society are that apes are family, and that apes do not kill other apes. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is itself a reboot of the original Planet of the Apes series. In this film, Caesar leads a community of apes who come into contact with the human survivors who are trying to rebuild their society. Many of the apes distrust humans because of the abuse perpetrated upon the apes by human scientists in years past – some of the apes have scars from the experiments to which they were subjected. Many of the humans distrust or devalue the apes, focusing instead on their own need for survival and referring to the apes as “animals.” Yet Caesar is conflicted – he has seen the violence humans have done, but has also been raised by kind humans. Some humans- chief among them an architect named Malcolm - also value and respect Caesar. Will Caesar and Malcolm be able to overcome the conflicted past relations between human and ape, or will growing tension on both sides lead to war?

How does This Connect to Adoption?
Caesar was raised by humans, and is now in a prominent position in the community of apes. Similar themes of cross-cultural families interacting with the conflict between their shared cultures appear in films like The Jungle Book and, more recently, Belle. Adoptees may relate to the feelings of having divided or confused loyalties, and to the feelings of pressure to choose one culture over the other, rather than being allowed to embrace both cultures (see Superman: The Movie and Man of Steel). In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar’s cross-cultural experience is a strength which allows him to serve as a bridge between two cultures.

The film seems to caution against acting violently on our fears. This reminds me of the conflict between mutants and non-mutants in the X-Men series. Caesar tells one ape, “if we go to war, we could lose home, family, and future.”

There are some scenes that could surprise and be difficult for some viewers.
Caesar’s wife gives birth, but her health is threatened. She ultimately survives, but some viewers might find it difficult to see a mother’s heath in peril.
One ape is shot during a tender family moment. One ape unexpectedly kills a young ape for disobedience. Children and teens who have experienced domestic violence might find these scenes particularly disturbing and surprising.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a visually striking and heavily plotted film. It kept me interested. There is a considerable amount of gunplay and violence in the film, but it is not gruesome or graphic. Young children might find the film frightening, but it should be entertaining for tweens and teens, so long as the two scenes of unexpected violence are not problematic for them.

Questions for Discussion
One character says, “Scars make you strong.” What do you think? How can the pain we’ve experienced become a strength in our life?   (For more on this theme, see X-3: The Last Stand).

How do you decide who to trust?

Do you identify with more than one culture? Do you see them as being blended or as being in conflict? 

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee Adoption Movie Review

Deann Borshay Liem’s first documentary captured her journey to Korea to revisit her orphanage and find her birthfamily. Ten years later, she produced the documentary In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee. In my review of First Person Plural, I mentioned that Liem had been secretly substituted for another girl, who two Americans had been sponsoring and ultimately sought to adopt. In this documentary, Liem tries to find the woman for whom she was substituted.

 Along the way, she reveals powerful struggles of identity. She wonders whether she has “lived as an imposter,” and notes “her birthdates are on my documents.”

Her search isn’t encouraged by her former orphanage. A director advises her, “It’s wise to forget about unfortunate past.” However, she continues her search and is able to meet the social worker who facilitated the substitution. The worker expresses sorrow that it is still haunting Liem. Liem does capture the outrageousness of an agency “finalized an adoption of a girl who wasn’t even there.”

The documentary raises questions about the ethics of different adoption practices. Drawing from her own story, she wonders “how many others had hidden histories?” (See 12 Things You Can Do to Make Sure Your Adoption is Ethical). It’s incredible, but Liem is able to find her original adoption records.

As in her previous documentary, Liem is balanced and insightful. She recognizes that her mother’s decision to “give me up fit into a lifelong struggle to survive.” She captures an uncomfortable impression of adoption, “there’s a randomness to our fate.” She notes a difficulty in reunifying from international adoption, “We have become tourists in our own land.” Of her particular situation, she struggles to resolve her legitimacy as the child of her adoptive parents, “Since there was deception, did I have the right to accept their love?” She hopes to gain from this journey a glimpse of “what my life might have been like and to see that I am connected to Korean women.” She eventually is able to meet the woman for whom she was substituted as a child. She is absolved from her worries of taking another’s place when the original Cha Jung Hee tells her, “I had a happy life in Korea; don’t feel bad about me.” It’s a pretty powerful illustration of the freedom that can come from knowing the truth about one’s own history.


Adult adoptees, adoptive parents and siblings, and prospective adopters could benefit from In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee and it’s prequel, First Person Plural. Both films are balanced, insightful, challenging and even uplifting. Although children probably wouldn’t be interested in the documentaries, teenagers might find meaning in Liem’s quest for identity and might be inspired and encouraged to start their own quest for knowledge of their own history. These films might be a good way to invite family discussions along those ends.

Questions for Discussion

What do you know about your birthfamily? What do you wish you knew?

How can we as a family journey together to learn about and embrace your history?

Suggested Reading & Viewing

Adoption Movie Review of First Person Plural

Open Adoption Blogs