Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sesame Street: Gina Adopts a Baby - Adoption TV Review

A few years back, Sesame Street ran a three-episode series on adoption. The episodes, in Season 37, are entitled “Gina Adopts a Baby” parts 1, 2, and 3, and are available for free viewing on Amazon Prime. It's available on Netflix streaming, too.

Gina, a veterinarian, has decided to adopt a baby from Guatemala. The first episode visits her prior to her departure. She reflects on meeting her baby for the first time. Over the story arc, Gina shares about adoption with curious Sesame Street characters, travels to Guatemala with Maria (a friend who will translate for her), and returns back to Sesame Street with baby Marco. Upon her return, Gina’s friends are effusively welcoming, but she is able to express the need for some quiet time. As the last of her friends bids her goodbye, Gina is finally alone with Marco and is able to breathe.

How Does This Connect to Adoption?
The episodes very directly connects to adoption. Gina explains adoption to her Sesame Street friends, and then adopts Marco.  Elmo asks Gina, “What does adoption mean?” Gina explains, “It’s something very, very special. A baby, a little boy, needs someone to love him and take care of him. I want to be that person so I’ll adopt him and become his mom. He’ll come live here on Sesame Street and we’ll be a family.” The episodes provide an adopting parent’s-eye-view of adoption. After bringing Marco home, Gina reflects on her experience, “Mommy… that’s me. I can’t believe it. I’m your mommy now. I’m the person I’ve always been, but not just me. I’m your mommy now, and I’ll do everything a mommy needs to do – feed you and hold you, and together we’ll be a family.”

Strong Points
The show reaffirms the value of asking questions. It’s healthiest when kids are allowed to ask – and receive answers to – the questions on their minds.
Gina is surrounded by very supportive friends, and is able to express her needs to them as well.
Gina hopes to have Marco speak both Spanish and English.
One song portrays a positive, inclusive definition of family, “It doesn’t matter who you’re living with. If it’s love, you’re a family, living together and loving each other.”
Another song highlights a positive attitude of the friends of the new adoptive family, “We’ll make him feel at home because he’s coming to stay.”

Challenges
It’s not certain that Gina’s learned any Spanish yet.
Because Marco is pre-verbal, the focus of the episode is firmly on Gina and her friends. I think the episode is intended to help young children understand adoption; it will probably do that, but it might have been nice had the adoptee been a bit older, and able to speak first-person.
Once in song and once in dialogue, Gina expresses that she and Marco were “meant for” each other. She means to express her love for Marco and her happiness about the adoption, and her intention to parent him. However, saying that the adoption was basically fated to be seems to be discounting of Marco’s birthparents. Speaking of…

Weak Points
There is no mention of Marco’s birth parents.

Recommendations
spoiler alert: "yawn" starts with "y."
It’s Sesame Street. Each hour-long episode leads off with 15 or 20 minutes of Gina’s story, and then proceeds to 40 minutes of talking about words that start with the letter “Y,” so even though I’m writing about three, hour-long episodes, you could watch the whole story arc in just about an hour. At their core, the episodes strike me as a good first introduction to adoption. Kids learn from stories, and having these episodes be part of a young child’s viewing rotation can be part of the process of normalizing adoption. The episodes are not a thorough, complete picture of adoption, but they do present a good place for kids to start learning about it. Think about watching this episode with your kids, 2-6.
Gina and Marco are surrounded by friends.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Gina want to adopt a baby?

What will Gina do for the baby?


How did Gina’s friends feel about her adoption of Marco?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Splinter as a Great Adoptive Dad: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adoption Movie Review

Years ago, two scientists – O’Neill and Sacks – worked together to develop a mutagen which would be valuable for healing sick people. Their test subjects were four turtles and a rat. A fire broke out in the laboratory, and O’Neill died, leaving behind his daughter April. Now, years later, a gang called the Foot Clan is terrorizing New York City. April O’Neill is a news reporter, and sees the Foot Clan thwarted by unknown (and oddly-shaped) vigilantes. When April investigates the vigilantes, she is surprised to learn that her life has intersected theirs before – and she also learns some hard truths about her past. Meanwhile, the vigilantes – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – must prevent the Foot Clan from unleashing a terrible virus onto the populace of New York.


How Does This Connect to Adoption?

The rat and four turtles that had served as test subjects for the scientists were saved by April. She loved them as pets, and freed them when it seemed that they would die in the fire. The mutagen that had been injected into them caused them to grow in mind and stature until they became anthropomorphized. They’re basically humans. The rat, Splinter, developed more quickly than the turtles (Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo). He raised them and trained them in the martial arts. He calls them “my sons,” and refers to himself as their father.

** SPOILER ALERT **
April’s father did not die because of the fire. He was killed by Sacks, the other scientist. Sacks is more or less the adoptive son of The Shredder, the leader of the Foot Clan gang. Sacks hoped to develop the mutagen as a cure for a serious disease, and then to use the mutagen for leverage by unleashing a disease on New York and then demanding power for the cure.
** END SPOILER **


Positive Aspects

I like Splinter. Splinter explains that he had to show the Turtles how to be safe, “So I became their father and they became my sons.” Splinter is a positive father figure. He believes in the Turtles, telling them that they are destined to protect New York, and that they will be able to accomplish “amazing things.” He also reminds them that, as his sons, the Turtles must trust him. When they reach a certain age, he entrusts them with their trademark weapons in a ritual of aging. In a crisis, Splinter puts the Turtles’ needs ahead of his own. Splinter also encourages fellowship among the brothers, telling them “Your true power lies in believing in one another.” Splinter is nurturing, firm, encouraging, selfless, and wise. There seem to be several recent films with positive adoptive (or adoptive-type) father figures – Despicable Me 2, Admission, Chimpanzee, Instructions Not Included, Kung Fu Panda, Les Miserables, Martian Child, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim, and now Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all come to mind. Hopefully this trend continues; it’s good for kids and teens to be able to see aspects of their stories reflected positively in film, often without it being a big deal in the film.

One character is told that her father will be proud of her, so long as she stays true to herself. This is also an important message for kids to be told, regularly – that you will be proud of them, no matter what.

The Turtles’ calling card is an ancient Japanese symbol for “family.” It feels very meaningful. Later, one character notes that they stuck together because “that’s what family is for.”


Challenges – spoilers ahead.

We see elements of April’s father’s murder. Now that April is an adult, her father’s murderer tries to kill her; shots are fired, but April is unharmed. Some viewers may struggle with the depiction of violence, and others may find it difficult to be immersed in a story that involves the violent death of a parent.

Splinter uses dojo-esque corporal punishment on the Turtles. It’s played for humor, but could remind some viewers of trauma experienced earlier in life.

April learns that her father’s trusted friend – whom she has also trusted for much of her life – is untrustworthy. I found myself thinking about how painful it must be to think for much of your life that one story is true, and then to find out in a traumatic way that you’ve believed a lie. This makes me remember how important it is for families to talk openly and honestly about adoption from an early age. Age-appropriate honesty, protected by confidentiality, is way healthier than secrecy. But I’m kind of on a tangent right now. Back to the movie…


Negative Aspects

Sacks has been negatively influenced by The Shredder. One character explains, “his soul has been poisoned by a dark master [The Shredder, who is]… like a father to him.” While Splinter is a positive father figure, The Shredder is certainly a negative one.

Shredder mocks Splinter by suggesting that Splinter is not their true father. This could be very hard for kids who are struggling with questions of identity, belonging, and “real-ness” of the adoptive family.

Shredder stabs Splinter. Splinter does not die, but he is hurt.

The Turtles are shown in peril; a character threatens to drain all of their blood.


Recommendations

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles presents a very positive portrayal of family loyalty, with a particularly positive adoptive father figure. (It also presents the same things in very negatively lights with regard to Sacks and The Shredder, but their story gets a lot less screen time and exposition than the Turtles’ positive story). There are scenes and recollections of peril, violence, and loss which could be traumatic for young kids, and the movie might feel a little childish for older teens, but I expect there to be an age window – maybe between 10 and 14 – where viewers will enjoy the film and be able to appreciate the film’s portrayal of loyalty in an adoptive family and a very positive adoptive father. If, after reading this review, you don’t think your 10-14 year olds would be bothered by any of the challenging or weak points, then I’d suggest watching the film together as a family, and then implementing one or two of the ideas below.


Questions for Discussion / Activities to Try

If we were to design a “calling card” for our family (like the Turtles’ use of the symbol for “family”), what would our symbol be?


What “aging rituals” can your family develop to honor the increased responsibilities and capabilities that come at certain ages (or at certain developmental milestones?)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Giver Adoption Movie Review

After a great war, society has rebuilt itself with the aim of avoiding pain – and avoiding another catastrophe. Society has identified choice and differences as the source of conflict, and has created a new order, without choices, without differences, and without pain. Only one member of the community – The Receiver of Memory - is entrusted with the memories of years past. The current receiver is very old, and has been assigned an apprentice, a teenager named Jonas, who is expected to become the new Receiver of Memory. If Jonas fails, the community will be forced to face generations of suppressed memories.


How Does This Connect to Adoption?
In a way, all of the families in the film are adoptive families; it’s not positive.

In Jonas’ community, there are no choices. Citizens are assigned jobs when they come of age. They can apply for inclusion in a family unit. Family units are assigned children. One of the jobs to which community members can be assigned is “birth mother.” The position is introduced in the film, but is not expounded upon. 

In the book, birth mothers are described as a position of low honor; they give birth three times, and then are assigned to manual labor. Jonas’ sister is chastised by his mother for saying she hoped to be assigned to the position of birth mother.

The Community boasts that its children are “engineered by geneticists, produced by birth mothers, and assigned to family units.”

Jonas wishes for a world where people know who their parents actually are.

***SPOILER ALERT***
Jonas is the second apprentice assigned to the Receiver. The first apprentice committed suicide after being exposed to the pain of a child taken from her mother.
***END SPOILER***

 
Positive Aspects

The film does pay tribute to the value of history, memory, and family. The film also relates that secrecy involves losses and doesn’t eliminate pain.


Challenges

Jonas’ apprenticeship largely consists of receiving memories from the previous receiver. They are transmitted by the older man placing his hands on Jonas. In an early lesson, the old man keeps telling Jonas to sit closer and closer. Before he touches Jonas, the man says, “There is no way to prepare you for what I am going to do.” The scene is not sexualized, but it could be a trigger for kids in foster care who have previously been molested.


Negative Aspects

In the Community, there can be no twins. Jonas’ father, a nurturer in the neonatal unit, is assigned the task of determining which twin is healthiest. The healthiest baby is assigned to a family, while the less healthy baby is killed by means of a lethal injection into the scalp. We see one baby killed in this way, packaged into a cardboard box, and disposed of down a trash chute. This could be quite confusing or traumatic for some kids, especially given the nonchalant way the killings are carried out.

One of Jonas’ friends has gotten in trouble, and is in danger of being killed by lethal injection.
Jonas and his parents lie to each other.

An elephant is shot on screen. Later, a human dies on screen.

A governmental leader orders the execution of a protagonist.

Also, see the next section.


Recommendations
The Giver makes the short list of books that I remember fondly from my pre-teen years. Even now, I revisit it every couple of years. It was interesting – and pleasant – to see some familiar places and people brought to life in film.

Some of the book was translated pretty directly, though. Birth mothers are held in low esteem, family units are formed through governmental assignments, and underweight babies that might be described in the United States as “failure to thrive,” are killed. There are several aspects of this film that could be challenging for children who have been abused, and some elements of the film could be confusing and negatively impactful for children who are still developing their understanding of their own adoption. It could be possible for children to walk away from the film thinking that all adoptions are wrong, or that birthmothers are not very valuable. Either impression could be harmful.
The Giver earned an MPAA rating of PG-13, and I’d recommend parents abiding by that rating. The film might unintentionally overwhelm kids under 13. Kids over 13 who have developed insight into their own adoption story might be able to use the film as a springboard for discussion. If you will have your teen watch this film, I’d recommend watching it with them and talking it over with them right after the film.

Questions for Discussion

The Chief Elder believes that people, when given choices, will always choose wrong. What do you think?

How does the depiction of “birth mothers” in this film relate to the way people in different aspects of the adoption community think of birth mothers?


What’s the difference between knowing something and knowing how it feels?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey Review - Adoption Movie Review

Cultures collide when a family of restaurateurs migrates from India to find a new start on the European mainland. Fate seems to decide the family’s new address, as their van breaks down in a small French town. They purchase a large restaurant which is directly across the street from a famous, Michelin-starred restaurant. The family draws together as they face fierce and unfriendly competition from the neighboring restaurant and – more troublingly – anti-immigrant hatred from some of their neighbors. While the family collectively adapts to France, the prodigy of the family, a young chef named Hassan, begins to fall in love with a chef at the restaurant across the street, finds great culinary success, leaves for fame and fortune, and starts to miss home.






How Does This Connect to Adoption?
Adoption is not part of the story. The matriarch of the family died traumatically in India, and the family subsequently left India for other countries. Some viewers will connect with the loss of a parent followed immediately by relocation to a new country. The prejudice that Hassan and his family experience may be familiar to some people who were adopted cross-culturally. Years after her death, a smell reminds Hassan of his mother.

Strong Points
Hassan’s family sticks together in the face of adversity, and meets some challenges with humor. They live and work together; the film provides a positive and touching portrayal of a close-knit, multigenerational family. When faced with family members’ frustrations about their temporary homelessness, Hassan’s father asserts, “Where family is, there is home.”
Even though Hassan’s family meets some neighborhood opposition, other members of the community are welcoming and hospitable. One of Hassan’s competitors stands in the rain to undo the damage caused by some vandals.
The film shows a family in the process of acclimating to a new culture, which could provide for some interesting discussions.

Weak Points
Hassan’s family left India because an angry mob set fire to their restaurant and home; Hassan’s mother was killed in the fire. The scene, and the subsequent sadness, could be triggering for viewers who consider themselves to have lost a mother. The scenes of frenzied mobs could also be particularly difficult for some viewers. A second mob sets a fire which leaves Hassan’s hands temporarily burned and bandaged.

Recommendations
I quite liked The Hundred Foot Journey, and found it to be one of the happier films I’ve seen this year. Except for the scenes I mentioned in the last section, the film is light in tone, whimsical, and often funny. It’s not likely to appeal to young kids because of the length (over 2 ½ hours) and, well, because it’s not a kids’ movie. But adults might quite like it – especially foodies, since the film does center around chefs and restaurants. Adults and teens in multicultural families could find it difficult to see the hatred experienced by Hassan’s family, but could also see the film as valuable for talking about the blending of cultures, the experience of being in an unfamiliar culture, and the different ways that people are treated because of cultural differences. This one is worth seeing.
 
Questions for Discussion
Have you ever experienced prejudice or hatred based on ethnic, racial, or cultural differences? How did you deal with that?
How can two cultures blend?
What foods remind you the most of your childhood?

Family Activity
If you’re part of a multicultural family, what dishes most symbolize each culture? Why not build a meal around all of those dishes – or even (if you’re adventurous) try to create one recipe that incorporates elements of each culture! Carnitas-stuffed pierogis? Kimchi burgers? What will you create? Have fun with this! Please share your newly invented recipes on our Facebook page! www.facebook.com/AdoptionAtTheMovies
Open Adoption Blogs