Adopted + We Can Do Better

I first watched the film, Adopted with my parents while I was in high school. I remember being the only adoptee at the film screening and thinking it would have been a valuable film for more adoptees and families to see. Now YOU can! It’s available (watch below) on YouTube for free and touches on issues of internalized racism, Asian fetishization, parent/daughter relationships,  and the importance of talking about race and adoption in the home. I hope you all find the time to watch it.

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.”

I think three quotes really stuck out in my mind:

1. “Remind her that she still has a mother in China.”

2. “You can’t separate my race from me.”

3. “Families adopt, and adoptees adapt.”

Two riveting scenes for me were when Jenny and her adoptive mother discuss the role of her birthmother. I was left in utter shock when her adoptive mother said she didn’t care about her birthmother and wasn’t open to further discussion of how hurtful that statement was to Jenny. I also found the family’s time in New York especially heartbreaking. When Jenny’s family lineage research concluded that her father and uncle could join the “Sons of the Revolution” group, but she would be excluded from the “Daughters of Liberty” group because she wasn’t of direct ancestry, I completely empathized with how Jenny felt “she was, but she wasn’t.” There are so many dualities and contrasting messages with adoption. I was also really saddened by her father’s lack of empathy and later unwillingness to eat or show any interest in Jenny’s birth culture/history at the Korean restaurant.

Conversely, I noticed that the Trainer couple was very open about adoption and the grief they knew their daughter would face. Though it was kind of problematic when they said their daughter’s grieving process was done in three days (because grief resurfaces and is triggered by different things over a lifetime), I could tell how willing they would be to eventually have these conversations that Jenny so longed to have with her parents. I particularly enjoyed that they had Chinese language T.V. shows for their daughter to keep her somewhat attached to her language and culture, and also how intentional they were to create friendships with other people of color so that they could have guidance in raising a child of color and so that their daughter would also be exposed to diversity.

To me, this film feels like a warning to adoptive parents to have tough conversations, to repel colorblind ideology, and to acknowledge the lifelong pain and grief associated with those first losses for adoptees. Below is the follow-up guide called, We Can Do Better,  where the whole “adoption community offers wisdom and advice to help today’s adoptive families. With 30-minute sessions on clarifying parental intentions, establishing identity, parenting a mixed-race family, grieving, and navigating the politics of adoption, We Can Do Better cuts right to the heart of the issues deeply embedded in the rewarding, but complex journey of adoption.”

To all of the adoptive parents coming to my blog in the first place, I know you are all conscious of some of the issues addressed in the film and follow-up guide. Thanks for continuing these conversations no matter how difficult they may be. While the first wave of adopters didn’t have a full net of resources available, the same is not true for adoptive parents now. The research has been collected, the narratives have been exposed, the adoptees have shared their voices, and I truly hope adoptive parents with young children will strive to do better.


5 responses to “Adopted + We Can Do Better

  1. Thanks, RTB, for sharing Adopted for all of us. I was anticipating it when it first came out, but missed it, so I’m glad to have seen it now.

    Like many documentaries, it makes me sad, angry. Sad and angry that Jenny has to give so much, struggles, and gets so little from those around her or closest to her.

    About the follow-up sessions/guide, Adopted, We Can Do Better, I was disappointed. There were no perspectives, opinions from first parents or families. I think they were hardly mentioned. Granted, it’s a few years old now and my own thoughts on adoption, myself, and my families have changed dramatically from when this was filmed to now, so perhaps the guides and methodology of the specialists have changed drastically too. Given that I’ve known some of the professionals and contributors featured in this series, and respected their work back then, I hope that, in their professional fields, they have also adapted to include more input/guidance from first parents and first families and feature them more in their public manuals.

    Most documentaries focus on mainly the adoptive parents, or the adoptee, or the adoptee and adoptive parents, or the adoptee and first family. Very few give equal weight to all 3 essential entities in adoption – adoptee, adoptive parents, and first family.

    However, one documentary comes to mind for comprehensively balancing those 3 parties as the adoption takes place and giving equal respect to the experiences and impact adoption has on all members. I’m not sure if you’ve seen Adoptionens Pris. In English, it’s called Mercy Mercy. It’s been translated into several European languages and circled around several countries in Europe, as well as the US and Canada for select screenings. It takes place in Ethiopia and Denmark. If you haven’t seen it yet, I hope you can.


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