Documentaries that represent our stories?

Last Saturday I did a training for a local adoptive parent support group, along with two others, both adoption professionals (and adoptive parents of grown children themselves). One of the other trainers asked me if I'd seen Adopted and asked what I thought of the film. I had to confess: I have not seen the main portion of the movie. I have watched all the collateral materials, all 2 hours of interviews with many people who I know personally (and most of whom I know either by name or professionally).

My take on the educational materials, which were originally supposed to be the film before the filmmakers decided to take it in a different direction, is that they are pretty good. I would recommend those portions for adoption agency trainings. I know some of the sections are supposed to be more "challenging" (but honestly I don't know that they challenge enough – or at least I always think we could push prospective adoptive parents even more) but they are definitely sufficient and with a few exceptions I thought they were honest and educational.

But, as I told my fellow trainer, I have not been able to bring myself to watch the main film – the stories of Jen and Jacqui & John. I can not do it. I know it will bring up too much emotional baggage.

So, I was wondering how many of you have seen this movie, and what are your thoughts? Would you recommend it to prospective adoptive parents? What did you think of the filmmaker's choice to follow these two families? If you've seen the whole movie (including the collateral materials), what do you think about the film conceptualized initially as the collateral materials with the stories of the two families added later? Does that change how you think about the movie? If you are an adoptive parent, do you think John and Jacqui represent your story? If you are an adopted person, do you think Jen's story resonates with you?

I plan to watch the whole film, I really do, and I will write up my thoughts after I see it. But in the meantime, I'd be interested in what others of you think of the film.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

8 thoughts

  1. I’m unlurking to say that I am a prospective adoptive parent and I am really itching to see this movie. I haven’t been able to locate it yet — too expensive to actually buy myself. I am anxious to hear the perspectives of others on the film.

  2. Important. Striking. Left me feeling less hopeful at first, but more balanced after I absorbed it.
    A few bits made me angry. The interview “It’s Not Fair,” than can be watched on Youtube really got under my skin. I cannot understand why a parent would speak to their child in that manner.
    Yet ironically, it did cause a spark in mind – that adoptive parenting IS different. That we have a very different set of responsibilities.

  3. Short answer: YES, it would be an excellent documentary for PAP and AP training. I watched the story-documentary first, and then the supplemental materials, so I guess I watched it backwards! But I have to say that I learned nothing new in the supplemental materials (but I’m probably better read than the average AP), except for the man-on-the-street interviews of why exactly it is that some men fetishize Asian women (I thought it was solely about exoticism and submissiveness and hadn’t thought about the physiological excuse (is that clinical and inoffensive enough?).
    I thought John & Jacqui’s story was pretty representative of adoptive parents, focussing on the happy-happy-joy-joy part while pretty ignorant that there’s more to it than that. When Jacqui says after returning from China weeks before that the bonding had already been accomplished, and the grieving already over, I actually laughed out loud, though it’s really more sad than funny.
    I posted a review at my blog — here’s the link:

  4. I’ve seen it four times now. The first time was fairly traumatizing I’m pretty sure I cried and made some loud noises of despair. I was upset. But it’s been interesting to see that every time I watch it, I feel like my understanding of all of these people deepens, my compassion grows and I appreciate all of their stories & struggles.
    You know Lee Mun Wah’s film, The Color of Fear? He basically doesn’t allow anybody to see it without also attending a moderated discussion session. I kind of feel like this film should be like that – that it should ONLY be shown in moderated discussion events and not just rented to any old person. I feel like it really needs to be contextualized and there need to be many, many many layers of discussion to accompany it. I do feel like it’s a completely raw experience as a stand-alone.
    I’m really glad that our organization is going to be showing this film at an upcoming event, WITH both of the filmmakers, because I am dying to get an update on all of these people, and ALSO to find out what John and Jacqui made of Jen’s story. They were filmed completely separately and I’m mostly curious as to what they would all make of each other at different ends of the spectrum.

  5. I would like to watch this movie, and I’ve seen a few clips from it, but I’ll add another note about using movies like this as an educational tool across all national settings.
    In my training classes, most of the parents were black parents who planned on adopting black children. We had a short unit and discussion on transracial adoption, and I think it was useful, but in a limited way. It was good for my husband. One of the two white couples felt very challenged and said some thing that made me think they were not ready for transracial adoption, and I think the workers picked up on that pretty quickly.
    But I’m not sure how productive the unit was for me, or for the black parents. It wasn’t our story. It was for and about white parents.
    And adoptive parents of color do still have plenty of complicated racial issues to deal with. For example, one of the parents ended up adopting a sibling group with a “black/white” twin. Two twin brothers, one of whom is phenotypically black, and the other one with much lighter skin and blond hair. As for me, I have the responsibility of balancing my son’s black heritage with my own Asian one.
    The specific context is important. I think white parents adopting Asian children need a different approach, for example, than white parents adopting African-American children.
    What are some specific assumptions and prejudices they’re likely bringing to the process? How to challenge those?
    Personally, the issue of fetishizing Asian women is the one that most infuriates me, because I have such a personal connection to it. It’s the one that white adoptive parents tend not to understand or even want to understand. I’m glad to hear the movie confronts it head on. Honestly, if I was in charge of this kind of transracial training, I would make adoptive parents watch an hour of trailers for Asian fetish p*rn movies to wake them the hell up, then an hour of Asian-American women sharing their experiences, and then spend the rest of the day talking about it.

  6. Skeeto, I agree that using the movie as a jumping-off point for discussion is really valuable. I showed it in my Adoption Law class, shown to 70 law students, most of whom had little knowledge about adoption and issues with transracial adoption in particular. They were completely shell-shocked by the experience, but we had some great and valuable discussion that I believe will make them all better lawyers in general, and in dealing with all aspects of adoption in particular.

  7. I’ve actually only seen the documentary part of it in full, with short snippets of the educational portion. It was very painful and very powerful to watch. The screening I attended was at the St. John’s conference this past fall, and was followed by a panel including Barb Lee and Nancy Kim Parsons.
    For me, as an AP, watching Jacqui and John’s story was VERY familiar – both in pleasant and uncomfortable ways, which is one of the things that I think makes this documentary a brilliant teaching tool for APs. I could identify with their excitement and joy in the process of becoming parents to and falling in love with their child. For example, watching them receive their referral call/papers brought me right back to the emotions of my own experience, and made me see them as endearing figures. And having that background of familiarity and likeability was critical to being able to see myself in the things they did and said that now, looking back several years post-adoption, and with a lot of additional education, made me cringe.
    I think one of the things that happens for us APs is that we tend to split off “good AP” and “bad AP” to preserve our egos. We tend to look for evidence that we are like the enlightened, well-prepared, “getting it right APs” and not like the unenlightened, unprepared, and “getting it wrong” APs. Seeing Jacqui and John as sympathetic, if you will, figures made it all more more possible for me to listen to some of the naive things they said and did and own, despite the discomfort, that I had been thinking and doing the same, and need to continue to examine myself and my perceptions/assumptions/role. Jennifer’s parents are not sympathetic figures and are too easily identified as “not me” – it’s too easy to rationalize that we current APS know better than to make their mistakes. Having Jacqui and John’s story interspersed with Jennifer’s allows one, if one has their eyes open, to make connections between their well-intentioned thoughts and actions and the origins of Jennifer’s pain.
    Yes, this is likely to be a very difficult film for many adoptees to watch. But simultaneously, at the screening I attended, one woman who spoke up afterwards said she’d never felt so validated in her life. And judging by the nodding heads I saw around the room, I’d say that many of the adoptees who were there that night found it to be equally affirming.

  8. Psychobabbler,
    I agree, it was very easy to identify with Jacqui and John, who were portrayed very sympathetically, I thought.
    Many of my students initially found it difficult to identify with Jen, who is not a wholly sympathetic character. The students expressed dismay that she’d try to have these conversations with a parent whose dying, and with parents they thought too old to change. After discussion, though, some of that changed. Interestingly, the analogy they were most receptive to were adult children coming out to their parents, wanting their parents to know all of them, including their sexual orientation.

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