Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: Approved for Adoption

Jung wandered the streets of Korea, homeless, young, and alone. He was eventually taken to an orphanage. From there, he was adopted and raised by a Belgian family. Approved for Adoption shares the perspective of a now-grown Jung, looking back at his childhood and adolescence. He struggles with so many real-life adoption issues – belonging in a family, belonging in a culture, exploring other cultures – and he ultimately makes a return visit to Korea (reminiscent of The Invisible Red Thread), and in doing so seems to understand his story even further. Approved for Adoption is an insightful and enlightening exploration of the experience of an adoptee; I’ve worked in adoption for several years, and this film introduced perspective and thoughts that I’d never had before.

Approved for Adoption is screening in theaters throughout the country now, and will be available on DVD this coming Spring. 

The Adoption Connection
Jung was adopted internationally, joining a Belgian family after beginning his life in Korea. Approved for Adoption addresses the adoption process (Jung notes that he easily could have ended up American or Danish), it addresses issues of belonging to a family, and it also presents pictures of Jung’s acceptance into (and lack of acceptance into) both his new and original communities of origin. Approved for Adoption looks beyond Jung’s individual story and also comments on some deep, internal struggles that are shared by many internationally-adopted individuals. Approved for Adoption is powerful and touches on so many aspects of adoption in a relatively short time.

Strong Points
Approved for Adoption is a unique, animated memoir. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a non-fiction, biographical, mostly-animated film before. The medium is engaging, the film is emotionally gripping, and the overall tone of reflection is honest, balanced, and generally positive.
The film is honest, and I think this is an advantage of it being a memoir. Adoption at the Movies is based on the thought that honest discussion is necessary for healthy families, and Approved for Adoption offers so much honesty. Jung is honest about his feelings of belonging – he wonders whether he’ll be accepted by Asians, and also knows that he doesn’t completely fit in as a European. He avoids other international adoptees. He notes that, for his siblings “he was one of them,” but for him, the sense of belonging was “not so simple.” He asks his sister, “Do you think of me as your real brother?” She returns the question, explaining that she sometimes wonders whether he thinks of her as a real sister. This was a new thought for me – the desire for acceptance and inclusion in an adoptive family isn’t only felt by the adoptee and the parents – but by the siblings already in the adoptive family. By the way, Jung answers his sister, “of course you’re my sister.” She replies, “it’s the same for me.” Jung is honest about the lack of information about his birthmother – he wonders about her, dreams about her, and continues processing his feelings towards her. He ultimately decides that he already has a mother, and that he does not wish his birthmother any ill. Jung is honest about his mixed feelings when his family adopts another child. He’s honest about his curiosity – he visits an office to try to find his birthname. He’s honest in his quest to understand the circumstances that led to him needing to be adopted. And he receives honest feedback – his agency tells him what’s in his chart (everyone should have the right to their own story!) – but also admits that the records are not completely dependable. Later, Jung notes that talking about adoption had been a taboo; he recognizes the pain and damage caused by not talking about it. I hope that films like this one lead to more and more open, honest conversations.

Jung’s family loves him. The love is imperfectly shown because it comes from real people, but it’s there.

The film artistically shows the connection between Jung’s experience of insensitivity from adults in Belgium and his nightmarish remembrances of his life before the orphanage.

Jung wonders why he was adopted – I’m not sure if he gets an answer.

Jung develops an integrated identity – he is part Asian and part European. He is neither black nor white – he is honey-colored.

There are some scenes that could be painful for some viewers: Jung’s adoptive grandmother seems to discount him from the family. Jung’s father beats him. Jung’s mother differentiates between Jung and “her” children. One parent calls Jung a “thief and a liar.”
Jung’s head is shaved as a punishment, and this reminds him of a time when his head was shaved before his adoption. This reminds me that foster/adoptive parents need to be careful when disciplining their children – they could unwittingly trigger memories that they don’t realize are there. There needs to be sensitivity when disciplining a child whose history you don’t fully know.
Some children use racially insensitive terms.

There is some nudity in the film (Jung fantasizes about an attractive teacher), and some potentially frightening depictions of Jung’s imagination/nightmares. The film’s honesty is beautiful and deep, but perhaps too deep for young viewers. Very highly recommended for adults considering adoption – especially international adoption – and for general viewers age 13 and up.
Questions for Discussion
What makes someone “feel like” part of a family?
What’s the difference between having a “place in the family” and a “place in the heart?”

Are there any taboo topics in your family? What’s the risk of that? How could they be opened up?

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  1. Replies
    1. Hey J! It's screening in New York right now, and it opens in Los Angeles on Friday. I'm not sure how many other places it will be playing at, but it comes out on DVD in the Spring. Here's the trailer, though: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTz4nWpL5DI


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