Between a global health crisis and worsening ravages of climate change, 2020 has made history in plenty of devastating ways.
But 2020 also marks a historic period for social justice in the U.S., with the largest civil rights movement to date coalescing around the Black Lives Matter movement. The reverberations of the movement have created new frameworks to allow the complex and overshadowed histories of all marginalized communities to emerge, from Indigenous peoples to people with disabilities to transracial adoptees.
November marks National Adoption Month, a designation highlighting how “countless Americans dedicate their time, energy, and resources to the adoption process, and we honor their selfless contributions as community members, faith leaders, caregivers, role models, and families,” according to the White House’s proclamation.
As an international adoptee myself, I’d say if you want to celebrate this inaugural National Adoption Month, here are the best documentaries that highlight the beauty, the loss, the anguish, and the joy comprising the lifelong process of adoption.
In the midst of adopting her daughter from China, filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton began a three-year project chronicling the experiences of four Chinese girls who were adopted by American families as a direct result of China’s “One Child Policy.”
Knowlton writes: “These strong young women allow us to grasp what it is like to come-of-age in today’s America as trans-racial adoptees. At the same time, we see them as typical American teenagers doing what teenagers everywhere do…struggling to make sense of their lives. Through these young women, and their explorations of who they are, we ourselves pause to consider who we are – both as individuals and as a nation of immigrants. Identity, racism, and gender…these far-reaching issues are explored in the documentary. And with great honesty and courage, these four girls open their hearts to experience love, compassion, and self-acceptance.”
The Dark Matter of Love Official Trailer (2012)
This is what you sit down to watch when you’re ready to put down the brochures with smiling faces of infants and look at some of the darker realities of adoption; namely, it begins with abandonment and/or orphanhood.
Sarah McCarthy’s documentary follows the evolution of the Diaz family, an extremely supportive family of three, as they adopt three orphaned children from Russia. Culture shock, attachment styles, and trust issues highlight the psychological obstacles of meeting strangers who call themselves your family.
Twinsters tells the story of identical twin sisters who were somehow adopted separately from South Korea without any documentation that they were twins. Separated by an ocean, they discover their connection as adults thanks to one sister’s burgeoning film career in LA.
Directed by Samantha Futerman herself, Twinsters is the shared passion project of Anaïs Bordier and Futerman, created as the two were re-united in their mid-twenties.
While this is the most wholesome and feel-good entry on this list, it’s not without plenty of tears and frustration as the twins struggle to retrace what separated them in Korean foster care and attempt to reach out to their birth mother.
In Off and Running, PBS unfolds the story of the Klein family: “Brooklyn teen Avery Klein-Cloud is the African-American adoptive daughter of white Jewish lesbians. Her siblings, also adopted, are an older black and Puerto Rican boy and a young Korean-American boy.
“Avery’s upbringing in a Jewish household and her distance from black culture were not issues for her during childhood, but as she approaches adulthood, she grows more troubled by her ignorance of her own roots. With the support of her parents, she decides to learn about her past by writing to her birth mother. The result is a crisis whose depth takes Avery, her parents and the filmmakers by surprise – a crisis that threatens to sweep away the teen’s promising future.”
Stuck is a jarring look at the bureaucratic pitfalls that can stall adoptions for years. WIth parents on waiting lists for years and children growing up in over-crowded facilities, adoption can be an agonizingly slow, laborious, and expensive process when it doesn’t have to be.
Thaddaeus Scheel’s documentary is narrated by Mariska Hargitay and “follows four children from three different countries on their individual voyages from orphanages to their new homes with families in the United States.”
Barb Lee’s documentary “reveals the grit rather than the glamor of transracial adoption.” As an adoptee, it’s a documentary I find deeply unsettling – namely because of the deeply flawed beliefs about international adoption that parents were taught in the ’60s and ’70s.
Though it was well-intended, parents’ “I don’t see color” approach to trans-racial parenting wreaked psychological havoc on generations of adoptees, who weren’t always equipped or prepared to resolve their mental and emotional issues as adults, including intimacy and addiction issues.
Filmed by Angela Tucker herself and edited by her husband, Bryan, Closure is “a documentary about a transracial adoptee who finds her birth mother and meets the rest of a family who didn’t know she existed, including her birth father. A story about identity, the complexities of trans-racial adoption, and most importantly, closure.” It’s an exceptional story that unfolds the complexities of domestic adoption in the U.S.
Brian Tucker writes: “The moment I met Angela’s family, I knew that theirs was a story to be told. A couple that adopts seven children with special needs is a story we should all know about. I did not have any knowledge about adoption prior to meeting Angela, but over time I became convinced that this story could educate and encourage others towards older-child adoption, yet also show the struggles within adoption at the same time.
He adds, “Transracial adoption is a hot topic in American society today. Is it best to pluck a child out of their culture and place them in a drastically different one? Maybe, maybe not—but the complexity lies within the fact that sometimes there isn’t another choice. Angela and I both believe that more unique adoption stories being shown will only help to further educate and lessen the stereotypes, myths and stigma surrounding adoption.”