As much as possible I like to highlight films that were created by adoptees. I have also listed several adoption documentaries and films that I recommend. The descriptions are from the official film copy unless otherwise noted; over time I hope to annotate each of these so you have an idea of why I listed the film here.
First Person Plural by Deann Borshay Liem
In 1966, Deann Borshay Liem was adopted by an American family and sent from Korea to her new home in California. There the memory of her birth family was nearly obliterated, until recurring dreams led her to investigate her own past, and she discovered that her Korean mother was very much alive. This film document’s Deann’s personal journey as she tries to reconcile these two families.
In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee by Deann Borshay Liem
Her passport said she was Cha Jung Hee. She knew she was not. Told to keep her true identity secret from her new American family, the 8-year-old girl quickly forgot she had ever been anyone else. This film follows Deann’s search for the person whose identity was switched with hers. Did Cha Jung Hee go home to her family, or was she adopted?
Geographies of Kinship by Deann Borshay Liem
Resilience by Tammy Chu
Resilience follows the story of Brent, a Korean adoptee in the U.S. as he finds and re-connects with his mother Myung-ja.
Searching for Go-Hyang by Tammy Chu
A moving personal documentary, SEARCHING FOR GO-HYANG traces the return of twin sisters to their native Korea after a fourteen year absence. Sent away by their parents for the promise of a better life in the US, they instead suffered mental and physical abuse by their adoptive parents, including the erasure of their cultural heritage and language. Reunited with their biological parents and brothers, the young women explore their past in an attempt to reconnect with their “Go-Hyang”, their homeland, which they find they may not have a place in anymore. Thousands of Korean and Chinese girl babies have been brought to the US for adoption in the last twenty years. This beautiful video is a rare feminist look at the issues of cross-cultural adoption and national identity.
AKA Dan by Dan Matthews
AKA Dan is a personal film detailing Dan Matthew’s very personal journey with meeting his biological family for the first time, including an identical twin brother he never knew about
Crossing Chasms by Jennifer Arndt-Johns
CROSSING CHASMS is a documentary about Jennifer Arndt, a Korean adoptee, who returns to her birth country seeking answers to the complex questions surrounding her adoption. In her search to define her identity, she walks through her past to understand the present. On this journey she meets other Korean adoptees who share their experiences as she tries to track down her own biological family. Through her own story and the testimonies of seven other adoptees, we learn about the complex issues facing Korean adoptees through their own voices.
Made In Korea: A One Way Ticket From Seoul to Amsterdam by In Soo Radstake
In-Soo Radstake arrived in Holland from Seoul in 1980. Adopted as a baby by a Dutch couple he is now searching for his true identity. His search takes him along the eight other adopted persons who came with the same flight to Holland. He also visits the orphanage in Seoul where he once lived. He compares the questions and experiences of his adoption with those of his adoptees. He asks himself is wheather he is Dutch or Korean. Radstake feels Dutch, but is that because he suppressed his Korean side? In the beginning of the documentary Radstake focuses on his fellow adoptees but as his search progresses, his story gets more personal and is he even trying to find his biological mother. His search ends with a reunion of his arrival group. Exactly twenty-five years after arrival is the group of nine South-Korean adoptees reunited. But this time as adults.
Outside Looking In: Transracial Adoption in America by Phil Bertelson
Outside Looking In brings personal insight and a critical lens to transracial adoption, looking at three families facing the challenges of adopting children across racial lines. The film supplies a voice to those directly affected by adoption policies and explores larger topics facing our society: race, family, and identity
Passing Through by Nathan Adolfson
Fresh out of college, Adolfson – a Korean adoptee who grew up in Coon Rapids, Minnesota – decides to return to his land of birth for fun and new experiences. After spending six months at Yonsei University living among drunk foreign exchange students, he relocates to a boarding house, determined to get a better sense of what life outside the dormitories is like. What he finds ranges from the painful to the provocative. He briefly participates in a student demonstration, resulting in his choking on tear gas. He is compelled to volunteer for an orphanage and muses over his own barely remembered childhood. Events culminate when Adolfson is reunited on Korean national television with his three long-lost siblings.
The Triumvirate by Jean Strauss
The Triumvirate tells the story of three generations of women, all impacted by the stigma and secrecy of adoption. Jean searches for her birth mother and discovers that her birth mother Lee is also an adoptee. Together they search for Lee’s birth mother and discover that she was raised in an orphanage.
Holding Hands by Jean Strauss
They were never supposed to meet… but when Jean finally met her birth brother, Bobby, everyone said they looked like twins. When he died, Jean was holding his hand – something she was never able to do for him as his big sister when he was young. This ten minute short film examines how siblings are separated for life through adoption, divorce, and foster care – and questions why this is supposed to be in their best interest.
Adopted: For the Life of Me by Jean Strauss
This documentary film is about the cost of secrecy in adoption.
Adopted by Barb Lee
Adopted reveals the grit rather than the glamor of transracial adoption. First-time director Barb Lee goes deep into the intimate lives of two well-meaning families and shows us the subtle challenges they face. One family is just beginning the process of adopting a baby from China and is filled with hope and possibility. The other family’s adopted Korean daughter is now 32 years old. Prompted by her adoptive mother’s terminal illness, she tries to create the bond they never had. The results are riveting, unpredictable and telling. While the two families are at opposite ends of the journey, their stories converge to show us that love isn’t always enough.
Approved for Adoption by Jung Heinin
A combination of animation and live action shots brings the story of Jung, adopted to France at age 5.
Twinsters by Samantha Futerman and Ryan Miyamoto. This is the story of Samantha and Anais, twins separated into adoptive homes in the U.S. and France who discover each other through social media and film their reunion.
Calcutta is My Mother is a feature length documentary telling the story of one transracial adoptee’s first journey back to the city of her birth. Reshma McClintock was born and abandoned in Calcutta, India in March of 1980. She was adopted and arrived in Portland, Oregon, where she was raised, the following June. In this honest, raw film, Reshma details her connectedness to the family she knows and loves and her struggle with feeling disconnected from her Indian roots. The film captures her first return to Calcutta on the 35th anniversary of the day she left for her new life in America. During her time there, Reshma strives to connect to her heritage, understand newly discovered grief, and reconcile her love for her adoptive family and longing for the family she has never known and may never find. Calcutta is My Mother is the emotional documentation of Reshma’s journey home; of her losses, gains, and search for identity.
Other films about adoption
A Girl Like Her by Ann Fessler. I highly recommend this film for a number of reasons. I especially appreciate the historical view, because I think it is important to understand how the social and political contexts in past eras shape our current understandings and practices. This is wonderfully done, even though it does leave out the experiences of women of color.
Closure by Bryan Tucker. This almost could have been in the category above, as Bryan Tucker is film protagonist Angela Tucker’s husband, but technically she was not the filmmaker so I’ve placed it in this category. I highly recommend this film for several reasons: first, it has a lot of different perspectives – adoptee, birth family, and adoptive family (including siblings). I also like that it really does not pathologize the adoptee’s search for roots and birth family. I appreciate that the birth father’s perspective is here since that is so rare to see in any discussion about adoption.
Daughter from Danang by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco. I have a lot of issues with this film and recommend it as an example of the harm that documentary films about adoption can impart on an adopted person and the ethical challenges that those filming about adoption come across. This film highlights the lack of awareness and knowledge that many adoptees have about the cultural contexts in which they were born into and subsequently adopted out of. A heartbreaking film but one that I think provides a lot of insights about the ways adoption has failed transracial and intercountry adoptees.
Girl, Adopted by Melanie Judd. One of the reasons I recommend this film is that it is so rare to get a glimpse of what a child (or in this case a younger teen) thinks adoption is going to be like as well as their thoughts after.
India: Calcutta Calling by Sasha Khoka. This film interested me because the adoptees grew up in Minnesota (my home state). It is one of the few films that centers on the Indian adoptee experience. I would like to know how these young women now think about adoption.
Las Hijas (The Daughters) by Maria Quiroga. This film is about three Colombian adoptees who conduct a search for their roots. Each of these young women have different perspectives about search and reunion.
Off and Running by Nicole Opper. I recommend this film because it features a same-sex couple with three adopted children, all of them transracial, one also intercountry and all three being raised Jewish and I appreciate the inclusion of this family diversity. I had some issues with the filmmaker’s choice to film certain aspects of Avery’s story and question how much (as I often do) a teenager or child can “consent” to being part of such an intimate and personal sharing of their lives. However there are some interesting and difficult moments that are very educational for adoption social workers and adoptive parents alike.
Operation Babylift by Tammy Nguyen Lee. This film offers one perspective of the airlift of Vietnamese children out of Saigon for adoption. I do not think it offers as wide a range of perspectives of the adoptees featured as I would have liked to have seen.
Somewhere Between by Linda Goldstein Knowlton. I recommend this film as an entry point of sorts for adoptive parents as I think it softly treads on some issues and if adoptive parents find this difficult to manage then I would be concerned about how they might handle much tougher issues that can come up with transracial adoptees. The young women in this film are strong leads and they have gone on to do some amazing things. I also appreciate that some stereotypes of Chinese adoption are challenged in this film, in particular the belief that Chinese birth parents did not care about their daughters that were placed for adoption, and the notion that Chinese adoptees could never find their birth family.
Struggle for Identity. One of my favorites to use for trainings. The benefit to this film is the wide range of perspectives and perspectives. The adoptees in this film have a lot of things to say about their experiences. I often consider this film a “litmus test” of sorts to gauge how prospective and adoptive parents can be stretched in terms of their attitudes about race and transracial adoption.
Unlocking the Heart of Adoption by Sheila Ganz (a first/birth mother). I recommend this film because it includes first/birth parents (including fathers which is rare), as well as adopted individuals and adoptive parents. This covers transracial adoption as well as same race adoption.
Other media resources about adoption
Wanted: Parents by American Radio Works
This audio documentary by the producers at American Radio Works follows two teenagers, Chris and Amanda, through the foster care system and into an adoptive family. After previous adoptions failed, both are hesitant to open themselves up to trusting that a new family will be different and truly accept them. As a former child specific adoption recruiter, I think this documentary most accurately depicts the teenager’s point of view regarding foster care adoption. Click here to listen.
This video is a pretty accurate depiction of what it does to a child to be placed in foster care and the impact of abuse and neglect on attachment and a child’s sense of identity. The filmmakers are in the process of making a Part 2.