Monday, May 27, 2013
An Interview with Bryan and Angela Tucker of CLOSURE
I recently reviewed the documentary, CLOSURE, which covers Angela Tucker’s journey to find her birthmother. This week, Angela and her husband, filmmaker Bryan Tucker, joined Adoption at the Movies to share about the search, the film-making, and what it’s meant in their lives. If you want to see the film, you can access it throughtheir Kickstarter page, through June 3. Also, keep an eye open for a CLOSURE giveaway on this site in the coming months. This is Adoption at the Movies' third filmmaker/author interview, following interviews with Instant Mom author Nia Vardalos and CAMP filmmaker Jacob Roebuck
I recently reviewed the documentary, CLOSURE, which covers 26-year-old transracial adoptee Angela Tucker’s journey to find her birthmother. This week, Angela and her husband, filmmaker Bryan Tucker, joined Adoption at the Movies to share about the search, the filmmaking, and what it’s meant in their lives. If you want to see the film, you can access it through their Kickstarter page, through June 3. Also, keep an eye open for a CLOSURE giveaway on this site in the coming months.
Addison: In some of the materials that Bryan provided, it said that the desire to search for your birth family has always been in you. What were the feelings like as a kid, Angela, and how did you actually make the jump to say, “I’ve wanted to search for a long time, but now I’m going to do it?”
Angela: I’m a pretty inquisitive, curious person by nature, curious about all things in general, and so I think naturally this was a part of it. I was always teased by the idea that I could have my original birth certificate when I was 21. That always felt like a lure – you know, OK, I’m going to get that some day – and I tried to get that, and was not successful, so I was just on the hunt.
Addison: Your family in the film shared some of their feelings and worries that they had when you started to be looking in earnest. With you having been talking about it and joking about it your whole life, what was your experience of your family as you started your search.
Angela: I don’t think that they ever thought it would go anywhere because we didn’t have enough information, or maybe they weren’t really realizing the deep need for me to find them.
Addison: It was really impressive, that when you went to find your birth family for the first time, you went with your whole family.
Angela: Yeah, I’m so glad I did. I don’t know how I would have done it without them. Otherwise it would have been really scary. I hear adoptive families talk like that – “We’ll let the child find their birth family some day, on their own,” but that sounds awful. I enjoyed having a safety net.
Addison: Bryan, as a person grafted into Angela’s family over the last few years, what was it like for you to go on this journey with her?
Bryan: Our first trip to Chattanooga was really exciting because of all the clues we had about who her birthfather was. We were excited to meet this guy, regardless of what happened. It was adventurous. Once I was there in the moment, and we met him, and he confirmed, “Yeah, I know your birthmother, I kind of had a relationship with her,” it started to feel like, “Oh my God – is this guy her dad?” Then it started to really sink in to me – what this meant to Angela – how incredible it was that she’s wondered about this guy and who her birthmother is, over all these years – and I was there with them. That was a privilege I hadn’t really prepared myself for. Even though in our dating relationship and our early years of marriage, I did help her search, brainstorm, and talk about “what if’s,” but being there was a whole different thing.
Addison: It was her birthfather’s mom that you met first of all. What was it like to meet her, and then to meet her birthfather, Sandy?
Angela: I remember seeing their last name, “Bell” on the callbox. So I called it, and then this woman answered, and I was kind of confused because it wasn’t a male voice. But I thought, “OK, I’m just going to go in anyway, because their last name is Bell and maybe they know my birthdad anyway.” So I went in to this woman’s apartment and she answered the door and I immediately noticed that we have exactly the same skin tone. I’ve never seen anyone whose skin tone matched mine so closely. I explained who I was and what I was looking for, and she confirmed that Sandy was her son, and I was very excited. But her next sentence was that he was sterile and could not have children. I left, and went outside. Sandy passed by on his bike, so we flagged him down to talk with him, and noticed that we looked exactly alike. I was so overwhelmed, I’m not sure if I even remember what was said.
Addison: You mentioned in this interview, and in the film – grandmother had the same skin tone as me, Sandy said he looks exactly like me. Sometimes, adopting parents talk about being colorblind or not seeing nationality, and are proud of it – but for you, seeing the physical connection seemed pretty powerful.
Angela: It was very powerful. I had wanted that for so long. And I think I had pretended – or just listened to what everyone else had told me my whole life – you know, people asking if my African-American (adopted) siblings and I were related because, you know, ‘all Black people look alike,’ so it was incredible to meet people who actually have the same skin tone as me.
Addison: Bryan, you said a bit about how this was a real privilege for you, to meet Sandy. How was meeting Angela’s birthmother Deborah for the first time, for you?
Bryan: I don’t think I officially shook her hand or said hi the first time we met her. I kind of stood back with the camera, and Angela had told me that if I could get a few pictures, that would be great, because we might not ever get this moment again. So like you saw in the film, I stood back, and eventually turned off the camera because Deborah saw I was taking pictures, and I didn’t want to be weird about that. Shortly after we met her and she said, “No, I’m not the birthmother,” We all got in the care and left. Our interaction with Deborah probably lasted like, two minutes. Angela believed that Deborah was not her birthmother, because she said so – and we were all like, “No, it was her. It was totally her.” And Angela didn’t believe us because she was so in that moment. But we all could see – we had some particulars about Deborah on her birth record – that Deborah was 4’11”, and had gray streaks in her hair – and here’s this short woman with gray hair, and we’re like, “Yeah, it’s her!” It was hard for me to see Angela with this slowly sinking in – that she had met this woman that she had fantasized about all her life, and that the woman didn’t want to have any kind of interaction with her.
Addison: For a lot of adoptees, one of the big fears is that they’ll search, find the person, and then be rejected. Sometimes that stops people from searching. And you guys experienced that with Deborah, and yet you were able to come back and give her a second try. How did you heal and recover enough to find the courage to do that?
Angela: I knew that I have birth siblings, so I shifted myself into wanting to know them and birth aunts and uncles that I want to know that would maybe want to know me. So I decided to shift that way. There is pain in being rejected, but I have some empathy to her reaction.
Addison: You did meet some of your birth siblings. And at a meeting at a social service office, you learned there is another one. Since the filming has been completed, how have things gone with that search, and with your other relatives?
Angela: We’re still searching for one of my birth-sisters. We know that she’s in Pennsylvania, but we don’t know anything else. I hope someday, we find her.
Addison: Na-Na always wanted a sister, and was surprised to find out that she had sisters. Sandy always wanted kids, and was surprised to find out that he had one. What is it like to be so long-desired, but unknown?
Angela: Sandy immediately called me his daughter, and was so proud. Part of me can’t realize that that’s me – is he talking about me? For me, the words “sister,” “dad,” “mom,” they’re more verbs – they’re actions. It’s not like they’re nouns.
Bryan: Several of Sandy’s siblings were like, “What if the DNA comes back negative?” They all resoundingly said, “We’re still family even if it comes back negative.” That was kind of shocking for me to hear because in my mind, I’m like, “Well, what makes us family?” But for them, they embraced us so wholeheartedly and so quickly and they just felt so changed by the whole experience that even if the DNA turned out that Angela was not his birth daughter, that they still wanted us in their lives.
Addison: There was a lot of acceptance from Sandy’s family. How has it been for your family, accepting in Deborah’s and Sandy’s family?
Angela: They really love them all. I talk to my mom about all of this a lot, and she absolutely loves my birthmom. I don’t know if love is the right word – but she feels so connected to her. They are as different as different can be, but both of them feel that connection to each other. My family has been embraced all in the Bell and Johnson families.
Addison: How much contact do you have with Deborah’s and Sandy’s sides of the family at this point?
Angela: NaNa texts me pictures of her kids, which I love, because she wants me to be an active figure in their lives, and wants her kids to know who I am. She tells me that every time she sees something about Seattle, she’ll tell her kids, “Your aunt lives there.” An aunt on the Bell side keeps me updated with everyone’s health and with changes in their family because they all want me to know. I also get stuff in the mail from them. It’s fun. I think the geographical distance between us makes communication a bit harder.
Bryan: When they’re on the phone with Angela, I might jump on and talk to them and say hi, or shoot an email. I’ve talked to Angela’s birthmom the most on the phone because in my process of making this film – when I was filming, I didn’t announce to the world that I was making a documentary film because I didn’t know how it would all turn out – but when I consciously made the decision that this would make a great documentary, I first went to all the people with a rough cut of the documentary; I wanted to let everyone know; I’ve had some conversations with Deborah and some of Angela’s birth aunts. We even went back out there again in 2012 just to let people know, and to talk to them face-to-face about what I’d be doing. Everyone was behind it. They all understood it was a great story. We had told them how we thought people could be impacted by it. For me, to get Deborah’s 100% - not just permission, but actually “Oh My God, I really want you to make this movie, Bryan,” that was really crazy – because it’s so deep and personal for her. She really was just ready to open up about everything. After keeping all these secrets, it was incredible that she was willing to share everything that she did.
Addison: How did you decide to do a documentary for this journey?
Bryan: I made an investment into some film equipment before we took a second trip out there, and we had a more proper reunion with Deborah and other birth relatives on Deborah’s side. I wanted to get good footage and quality sound, but it wasn’t until we were there and all this was happening that I realized – where we’ve been and where we are now has a beautiful story arc in it. I’ve been really excited about someone doing a story on Angela’s adoptive family and I never saw myself as the person doing the story. I realized I had the footage for a strong narrative, and I just needed to go back and interview people to help set up the stories. With it being my first film, I didn’t really know how to do that, so I just read a lot of articles and books on how to make a film.
Addison: What are your hopes for the film, now that you’ve got the story out there? What do you hope that it accomplishes?
Bryan: I really hope it gets into the hands of people who are adoptive parents, birthmothers, and people interested in adoption. In my research, I couldn’t find any documentaries like this one. There are some out there, but in some of the better ones, the subject never found the birth family, so there just wasn’t that aspect of the story to tell. So I thought, from the material we have, it’s kind of a rare peek into that really complex issue of being an adult adoptee – like Angela – struggling with those feelings of identity and finally wanting to meet the birth family. I’m taking it one step at a time though, planning for self-distribution, a website where people can download and stream it, and purchase by DVD as well.
Addison: Angela, what message or lesson do you think people in your position might take from your story? Folks who’ve wondered about their birth family but are unsure whether they will – or even can – try to find them?
Angela: I hope that it can start to normalize the feelings adoptees have – that we can do both. We can search and have love for birthparents as well as for our families. That seems to be a fear I hear from adoptive parents, I’m also interested in phasing out the “cover” I feel of adoptees needing to say, “I hope I can find my birth parents for the medical history.” I feel like that’s a cover. I have learned a lot from medical information, but that’s not the primary reason why I searched. I want it to be OK for a primary reason to search to just be because the adoptee feels strongly that they want to make the connection, I want them to feel empowered to do that. For adoptive families, I hope they can see ways to be supportive of the adoptees before they make this journey, and to see through this movie how powerful it can be for family members to support adoptees – it can be powerful for their relationship, instead of fear of losing the child.
Addison: Sometimes, families are fearful that their child would stop loving them if they find their birth family, or that the birth family would be replacing them; but a growing thought in the adoption community is, “Well, no. One doesn’t replace the other, ever. Even when the birth family is absent, they’re still there.”
Angela: One certainly does not replace the other. That’s not the goal in the search; it was just to learn about my roots – and how I came to be.
Addison: What upcoming screenings does the film have?
Bryan: A San Francisco screening is coming up. We’ve also just booked a one-day screening at a theater in Bellingham in July. That’s where Angela grew up, and it’s a wonderful, really neat community.
Addison: Being a relatively new filmmaker, and working on the budget of a relatively new filmmaker, you’re drawing from different sources to get the film set, ready to go, and distributed. How can people help you?
Bryan: Kickstarter is up until June 3. Kickstarter is a really great tool for anyone working on project. It’s helping to legitimize the indie film industry. It’s crowd-funding to help get the film made. It also gives people incentives like a digital download of the film, a photo production book, or a Skype session with us. This is a way to “pre-order” the film, but it’s more than just buying the film, because people are coming in for the experience of helping us make the film, and having access to us as we make the film. I’ve really enjoyed having people email me their stories and telling me how they will help out. Anything I raise over the Kickstarter goal will be used for marketing and getting the film into more theaters, and in areas where it can be more widely shown, like Netflix.
Addison: So, for people who want to advance the cause of a healthier understanding of openness in adoption, this is a way for people to join with you, see the film, and connect with the two of you.
Bryan: Exactly. It’s several steps above just a donation. It’s a very exciting avenue to take for a film creator like me, and exciting for other people to get to know a film like this, and to get excited for it before they see it.