Friday, May 31, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: White Oleander

Astrid is taken into foster care when her mother is arrested for murder. Over the subsequent years, Astrid moves through the system, living in three different foster homes and making two stops at the same group home. As she journeys through different placements, she “tries on” different identities. She finally finds identity – and a sense of belonging – with a friend she meets along the way. Astrid ages out of the foster care system; she adjusts to independence while also trying to make sense of her life’s path.

How is This Relevant to Foster Care and Adoption? 
Astrid never knew her father, and she was unexpectedly forced into foster care. Although she initially anticipated being reunified with her mother, her case plan was changed fairly quickly to adoption. Throughout the film, Astrid goes through many of the experiences that foster kids do; she’s surprised to see a social worker at her door, and tearfully, quickly packs her bags. She spends time in a group home, lives with a range of families, visits her mother in prison, considers adoption, and ultimately ages out.

Strong Points
Astrid is very real. She alters her identity to seek connection with others, but also develops a tough shell to protect herself. Astrid meets good people who have been broken by life, and in spite of how their brokenness impacts her, Astrid stays strong and is able to move into adulthood. She is able to view her mother comprehensively. She distances herself from her mother’s harmful beliefs, and acknowledges that her mother’s behaviors are dangerous, but also acknowledges that her mother loves her and demonstrates some positive traits that she inherits form her mother. This is an important skill for foster kids, especially those who’ve been abused – acknowledging both the strengths and weaknesses, the virtues and the vices of those you love, who have hurt you.

Astrid’s true history has been hidden from her. Astrid coerces her mother into telling her the truth. Astrid’s mother eventually makes a difficult decision to grant Astrid independence, at great cost to herself. Astrid is able to admit that her mother loves her.

Astrid uses art to process her journey. She creates a suitcase collage to represent each of her homes. It’s a powerful idea.


There are plenty of realistic but troubling relationships in the film. Astrid’s mother is in jail for killing her boyfriend. She tries to control Astrid by speaking ill of each of Astrid’s foster parents. She refers to Astrid as being “imprisoned” in foster care, although Astrid seems to have the potential to thrive there. She refers to Astrid’s foster parents as “the enemy.” Astrid’s foster homes are also troubled; one foster father kisses her. A foster mother commits suicide. A family openly discusses “sending her back.” Astrid experiences violence in the group home, but also finds a true, faithful friend. In a more unrealistic scene, a foster mother shoots Astrid.


The film leans towards vilifying Astrid’s mother; she seems truly unstable and sociopathic. Also – one untrustworthy character says that families don’t adopt teenagers without ulterior motives – in the context of the film, it’s unclear whether the statement is intended to be received as true.


This could be a powerful film for teenagers and young adults who have been through multiple foster care placements.

Questions for Discussion after the movie

What do you remember about each of the places you’ve lived? What would you put in a suitcase to represent them?

What part of Astrid’s relationship with her mother seemed realistic or unrealistic?

How has your identity developed and changed over the last few years?

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  1. I picked this up at the library today thanks to your review :-)


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