I love movies! Going to the movies, watching at home, watching on a plane – if there is an opportunity to see a movie I will probably see it. The popcorn, the butter, the candy: all good things! I have a lot of great memories seeing movies with my awesome family growing up. My family consists of myself, my sister Lara who is also a Russian adoptee, and my parents.
I have a question for you. If you had to put your adoption journey (or adoption in general) into a movie genre, what genre would you pick? Think about it. How you answer this question can show how you think about adoption as a whole.
Now, rewind and think back to the first movie you saw in theatres. This experience for me, so I am told, consisted of me standing up in a theatre chair and yelling, “run Stuart run” because I knew that Stuart Little could hear me… and so could the rest of the theatre. I loved the movie, and as a child I did feel connected to Stuart. He was one of the first instances where I had seen adoption portrayed on screen. But, he is a mouse… and the parallels between my life and his ends pretty quickly.
I also saw Annie, Superman, and Despicable Me (that uses the word ‘orphan’ way too much if you ask me…). Are all orphanages like Annie’s? I remember thinking that Superman was cool, but I was not a descendant of aliens. It was hard to find a movie that portrays adoptees post-adoption. I remember wishing I had a locket or something from Russia. I remember being thankful I was not adopted by a bird like Po in Kung Fu Panda!
As I got older, I have seen that more movies have been released that have adoption related themes. A favorite of mine is called “Lion” that is about an adoptee who searches for his birth family and ends up using satellite footage from the internet to find his origins. The movie portrays some adoption themes and realities really well, but it is hard for me to watch reunification themes sometimes.
Everyone wants a character to relate to.
If a movie accurately portrays adoption and adoptees, that is wonderful. Each adoption and adoptee is different, so it is hard to please the masses. But, is there any type of movie that focuses on the adoption post-adoption that is not centered around finding or reunifying with birth family? Are there stories of non-murderous adoptees or former foster youth? Okay, yes there are … but it seems like if adoption is in a movie, then adoption or reunification is the major theme of the movie. Or, adoption is a punchline of a very offensive and not funny ‘joke.’ Or birth or adoptive families are very scary or weird.
Orphan Annie, Buddy the Elf, and even Shazam’s intentions are surrounded by finding their bio families. This is NOT a bad or negative theme because I do think this is important and can be wonderful, but it is hard for adoptees like me who are internationally adopted or otherwise have a hard time connecting with birth heritage and culture. Or there are movies like The Grinch or Fantastic Beasts that have characters whose orphan status just brings pity with very little hope in their current situations.
I want characters that do great things, not in spite of their adoption but because of their status as an adoptee!
The fact that a character in a movie cannot just nonchalantly say, ‘I’m adopted’ is a big reason why some may have a hard time understanding adoptee identity. Some adoptees may feel guilty for feelings of sadness or loneliness or even joy and happiness, or others may feel wrong for not being able to or not feeling ready to reunify – because these story lines are never in the script. If there is a movie with honest themes, then the adoptee is probably not the protagonist.
Do I think it is wrong that movies with ‘orphans’ or other adoptee related themes exist? Absolutely not. Do not think I am saying we should add deep or not age-appropriate things to kids movies. It is important to accurately portray adoption themes in a way that breaks negative stereotypes that adversely affect the whole triad.
Being an orphan does necessarily not mean your bio parents are dead…
Not all adoptees or foster youth or orphans must go on a fearless adventure to find bio family with perfect reunifications….
Not all foster youth struggle with the same things….
Not all adoptees will have amazing abilities that propel us into athletic and or hero status… (though we all are amazing ;) )
Adoptees should have the freedom to process their adoptee identity without society placing one narrative on adoptions.
But, all of us are resilient – so keep adding adoption, adoptees, etc. to movies and we will continue to share our stories. I believe that we are each capable of finding joy in our current situations. Some adoptees see their story as a horror movie, or maybe a comedy or a happy-go-lucky film.
No matter how each of us feel about our adoptee identity, we can be sure that being an adoptee is more than a one-time movie moment and more like a unique lifelong documentary.
Elena S Hall's passion for adoption advocacy stems from her faith and family. She loves to write, dance, sing, and tell stories. Her goal is to aid those in the adoption triad to promote healing and growth within the adoption community and empower readers to share their own stories. Her book, Through Adopted Eyes: A Collection of Memoirs From Adoptees, shares 50 adoptee perspective and guides readers though adoption from the viewpoint of adoptees. (please go grab a copy… early Christmas shopping?!)