Adoption told authentically

The other day I shared my reactions to the film Stuck, which is capturing a tremendous amount of attention in the adoption community and the media right now.

Stuck raises issues we need to be discussing in the adoption community, but unfortunately accomplishes this in an adoptive-parent-centric, entitled way. "Sending" countries are by and large dismissed for their poverty and bureaucratic ineptitude; the U.S. is portrayed as a haven that should be offered at every possible opportunity. Ultimately, Stuck is an excellent marketing tool for Both Ends Burning's adoption campaign; as the film's slogan tell us, It's more than a movie. It's a movement.
If someone were to ask me which films I recommend that tell the adoption story authentically, I would send them immediately to Mu Films, and suggest they watch First Person Plural and In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee in quick succession.

In First Person Plural, Deann Borshay Liem tells her adoption story, from her life in Korea before her adoption to the United States, her childhood in Minnesota, and the emotional roller coaster that moved her to search for her Korean family, find them, and bring both her families together.

In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee follows Liem's efforts to find the woman whose name she brought to the United States. Told to keep her true identity a secret from her new American family, Liem always knew she wasn't who her passport said she was, but never knew why. Her investigation answers this question, and in the process sheds light on just how easy it is for a person's identity to be altered and even obliterated in the course of adoption.

When we promote adoption as the best or only solution for children without families, our ability to objectively consider its complexity, including its risks, is diminished. Stuck drives us to a single conclusion, going so far as to suggest that those of us who don't agree send the world's children a message that we don't care.

There is no ideology in Deann Borshay Liem's films, and no forced opinions.  Liem tells one story: her own. Her films encourage us to question prevailing attitudes about adoption, but do not push us into ideological corners. She is generous with her affection for all of her family members, Korean and American, and takes no position on whether or not adoption should exist, only on the need for it to be ethical.

Both of these films have had a profound effect on me and my understanding of adoption and the need for adoption reform. They have given me insight into the emotions adoptees experience as children and adults, and showed just how painful unethical adoption behavior can be for adopted individuals and their families.

Most of all, these films have taught me that our paradoxical adoption experiences are all valid, and all must be acknowledged. Great good can come from adoption, but great evil can be done in its name as well. Neither can be ignored. For those of us who live adoption joyfully, this may be the most important lesson of all.

I'm anxiously awaiting Deann Borshay Liem's newest adoption film, The Geographies of Kinship, a feature-length documentary that will tell the stories of other adoptees from Korea. I am sure that Deann will allow those featured in the film to tell their own stories, and that I will learn from all of them.


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