What better time than National Adoption Awareness Month to share three documentaries about adoption from the perspective of adoptees? Film is a powerful way of conveying a story, bypassing the intellect and aiming directly at the heart. Or as Ingmar Bergman said: "No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls." These films do that.
Adopted: For the Life of Me by Jean Strauss gracefully and powerfully brings to life the saying, "the personal is political." Strauss follows a 58-year-old adoptee's search for his birth mother, documenting the battle for adoptee rights by focusing on the effects of being denied one's name, heritage, and medical information and the joy of seeing your blood kin.
This award-winning film that has received standing ovations is available on DVD and on PBS. It allows the non-adopted, including adoptive and prospective adoptive parents, to experience vicariously what being adopted feels like, and lets adoptees know they are not alone. First Mother Forum accurately described it as "a compelling antidote to the utterly inhumane system in place in most of the country that prevents adults from knowing the truth of their origins."
You Have His Eyes has garnered first-time filmmaker Christopher Wilson thirteen film festival awards. Adoptee Wilson documents his own search to answer the burning question: "O.K, so who am I?"
Wilson first meets his natural mother, Neomi, who shares the heartbreaking story of her father throwing her out with her newborn baby. Trying to do what was best for her son, she interviewed and chose adoptive parents and then wrote a heartbreaking letter to her son's new parents. Expressing her love and gratitude, Neomi humbly requested updates on the boy's well-being and possibly photos of her son. But agency through which Wilson was adopted was shut down for illegal adoption practices, and all hope of Neomi knowing what becomes of her son evaporated.
Unbeknownst to both his birth mother and his adoptive family, they were all the time just three miles apart, though it might have been light-years as Neomi waited in silence without a word of her beloved son. We see how five years passed before the two were reunited and a door was opened for Wilson's quest for his father, a man no one had seen for fifteen years. Wilson takes viewers along on an extraordinary spiritual journey of identity.
Recognizing that "in each family a story is playing itself out, all its characters affected differently," Wilson lets every player speak the truth as each sees it. This includes a psychic he consulted who interjects her concern of the possible hurt Chris's search might cause his adoptive parents, reflective of a common belief that maintains adoptees as perpetual children who owe their adoptive parents total loyalty and gratitude, and disallows them adult autonomy.
You Have His Eyes is a tale of an adoptee finding "self" and in that sense bears a likeness to Adopted, by Barb Lee (see Huffington Post) albeit without the racial issues and the struggle for understanding between adult adoptee and adoptive parents addressed in the latter. Wilson's film inescapably touches the heart and makes a bold statement about the absence of accurate medical history for the adoptee, yet does so without beating the drum of adoptees' "right to know." However, the filmmaker seeks to partner with non-profit organizations, experts, and grassroots leaders working in areas touched on in the film.
"Oftentimes film can leave an emotional impact on a person. We want to channel that energy into meaningful change. We feel it's not only our duty to tell an important story, but also make use of our platform by providing eager viewers with direct access to amazing individuals and associations that are making a difference every single day."
Adopted: For the Life of Me, on other hand, adeptly interweaves the personal struggle for truth with the political battle for equal treatment under the law regarding access to one's birth certificate, and is the sole focus of Strauss's short film.
An Adoptee ROARed in Ohio - the Betsie Norris Story is a 20-minute film that unpacks a 24-year battle spearheaded by Betsie Norris, Executive Director of Cleveland's Adoption Network to gain Ohio adoptees access to their birth certificates. Norris, herself a reunited adopteda, expresses how meaningful it was to her to hold her own birth certificate and see the name her first mother had given her. Her decades of work to get the legislation passed are driven by her passion to ensure that no Ohio adoptee is denied that right.
Along the way, Norris's adoptive father reveals that he too had followed a calling for political activism in adoption. His concern, back in the 1960s when he adopted, was to secure adoptee birth records from public scrutiny. The bill he encouraged, however, wound up sealing the records from adoptees as well in 1964.
Father and daughter went on to work together to undo this injustice that was, like similar laws in other states, created at the behest of adoptive parents, and was never intended to protect birth mothers or cause harm to adoptees.
All three films offer valuable insights into the lives of those who are adopted. Each film in its own way, make clear the unique challenges adoptees face in order to satisfy their very human curiosity to know why they were not raised by blood kin. All three allow viewers to share what it is like for adopted persons to accomplish the most basic genealogical search and look - for the very first time -into eyes that reflect their own back to them.
"The first step - especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money - the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art." - Chuck Palahniuk
These filmmakers have done that. The second step is for the rest of us to watch, read, listen and be moved to change social injustices and ameliorate pain and suffering.