We Can do Better(Companion DVD to Adopted) Directed by Barb Lee, Written by Catherine Wigginton Greene, Co-produced with Catherine Wigginton Greene and Nancy Kim Parsons
In Adopted, filmmakers Barb Lee and Nancy Kim Parsons present us with the gripping story of two adoptive families at opposite ends of the adoption experience: one set of parents in the process of meeting their adopted baby, the other facing terminal illness and trying to leave their adult adopted daughter with dignity and love by discussing some of the issues that have been unspoken within their family. When Pact staff first watched this movie, an adoptive parent and an adult adoptee were both moved to tears, especially by Jen Fero, the adopted adult who courageously allows viewers into her family as she explores her own experience of adoption with her parents and brother. We come to care deeply about her and see her as a hero, a very articulate hero, who helps us understand, once again, the complexity of adoption. Adopted is distributed as a two-DVD set with We Can Do Better, a companion film designed for training purposes. In the words of Cheri Register, who adopted two children from Korea and is the author of Beyond Good Intentions and Are Those Kids Yours?, the material covered here is “not for the faint of heart, but neither is transracial or international adoption.” We Can Do Better intersperses the firsthand experiences of parents and adopted adults with child welfare professionals talking about some of the challenges inherent to transracial and transnational adoption. Each of the five sections is between 20 and 35 minutes long, and conveniently divided into topics for trainers and parents. Intentions: This section explores infertility, adoption as a “calling,” parents who want either a boy or a girl to complete their family, issues of motivation, adoption readiness, the meaning of “rescue mentality,” and the notion of adoption as “better” for children. It gives voice to some of the secret accolades that adoptive parents enjoy and explores the complex implications of the myths and assumptions that surround adoption. Parenting the Adopted Child: “It’s not the same.” This section addresses in an amazing amount of depth parenting issues ranging from bonding and attachment, children’s responses to orphanage care, developmental delays, learning disabilities, mental health issues, grief and loss, children’s stories of adoption, birth parents, siblings in blended families, and guilt. The Mulitracial Family: This section addresses issues of color-blindness, white privilege, parenting strategies, racial stereotypes, Asian sexual stereotypes, and when and why adopted kids talk (or don’t) with their parents about racism. The focus is on Asian transnational adoption, reflecting the experience of the filmmakers, but they have worked hard to make sure that the material is relevant to transracial and transcultural adoptions of children of all races. Identity for the Transracial Adoptee: Racial vs. cultural identity, cultural appropriation, racial mirroring, cultural guides, and internalized racism are among the topics discussed in first- person voices of impressive complexity, compassion, and honesty. A call for parents to become their adopted children’s allies is intermingled with positive suggestions for how to help transracially adopted children succeed. Tough Questions: This section handles outsiders’ questions and looks at ethical issues in adoption, including socioeconomic inequities and child trafficking. Unfortunately, the filmmakers neglected to distinguish domestic private adoption from domestic foster-adoption, which leads to some confusion. Statements such as “domestic adoption takes longer than international adoption” and “domestically born children available for adoption are older than those available internationally” are contradicted by Pact’s own placement of (generally newborn) infants of color, usually within six months of the adoptive parents’ home-study readiness. But despite these inaccuracies, there is very useful information in this section about how to answer children’s and adults’ questions about adoption. There are interesting interviews with parents of color who have adopted white children, later revealed to be actors. These provocative and effective segments give the audience the chance to analyze, outside the lens of white privilege, the language and assumptions that white adoptive parents often use to justify their own transracial adoptions. As Susan Soon Keum Cox, herself a Korean adoptee, reminds us at the end of the film, adoption is about families for children, not children for families.