orphan movie, orphan stigma

One of the most discouraging things I have heard people say about adopting a child is that "you never know what you are going to get." I supposed there is some truth to that statement, but I feel that it is usually said with some air of genetic superiority . . . that somehow a person's own familiar chromosomal makeup would be preferable to the "crap shoot" of adopting. It's interesting to me that this notion is held in a society that seems to blame bad parenting on every childhood deviation from perfect behavior. I also think it is interesting that anyone should think that their own family blood line to be better than another without taking into account the mitigating factors of education, privilege, prenatal care, and good parenting. In fact, even in the presence of these things, families from all walks of life have some blips in the tree here and there. Which is why I always find it a little rattling when I've been asked about Jafta's birth family in a way that indicated the answer would be some sort of an indictment on his character or potential. (This is also why I am tight-lipped about it, because I know the prejudice of "guilt by genetic association" is still pervasive).

Don't get me wrong, I realize that there are genetic components to things like mental illness, addiction, cancer, diabetes, etc. But if those were deterrents to parenting, then Mark and I should never have had our own biological children, because Lord knows we've got enough of that crap in our own family of origins. Most of us probably do. Then there are a host of other issues that can crop up during pregnancy or childhood that have no foreshadowing in the genetic code. Because the universal truth is, when you decide to be a parent, whatever way that happens, you don't know what you are going to get. That's a risk you take whether you get pregnant or adopt. So forgive me when I get annoyed at that truth being applied so liberally and exclusively to adoption.

The reason I'm feeling a little testy about this today is that I just saw a preview for a movie called Orphan. Now I am so not the type to send out boycott emails, or jump on the latest bandwagon of Things to Be Alarmed About. But one of the things that stuck out to me in a preview is someone whispering that very warning to a prospective adoptive couple: you never know what you are going to get. I've not seen the movie, but from the looks of the preview, the couple adopt a little girl who ends up being some sort of a monster who wreaks havoc on the lives of an idyllic suburban couple. I am not blind to the fact that the adoption of hurting children can really wreak havoc on a family, but an exploration of attachment issues does not seem to be the goal of this movie. (I would love to see a mainstream movie about that). Orphan is a horror film, and it's perpetuating an insidious notion about parenting orphans. I think it is bringing unneccesary fear and stigma to the adoption of older children, and I'm kinda pissed about it. And yes, I'm rattling off about a movie I haven't even seen yet, and I HATE when people do that. But based upon the entire plot premise I don't think I need to waste my time, and no matter how it ends, the moral of the story is clear: this couple shouldn't have adopted.

There are 140 million orphans in this world, and I can't think of a population in greater need of compassion. Why a movie company would choose to vilify orphans for a cheap thrill is beyond me. I'm not going to link to a petition or call for a boycott. I don't really think that stuff effects much change. Instead, perhaps it's a call for all of us to contemplate how we can honor and respect the least of these when our entertainment industry does not.


  1. Disturbed and mad. Yuck. But glad to be informed.

  2. Anonymous2:45 PM

    Ugh. Pretty much what I thought when I saw the preview.

  3. Glad you brought this up. I was just cringing in my seat during the Orphan preview (while waiting for The Hangover to begin (out of which I walked after wasting 45 precious minutes of my life enduring painfully-drawn out manifestations of male arrested-development)).

    Folks stigmatize adoption while ignoring the demon spawn of their loins. Doesn't anyone remember this from the 50's??? Mwa-ha-ha...

  4. I couldn't agree with you more! Well said!

  5. Anonymous1:39 PM

    A lot of adoptive parents are angry about one line in this film: It must be hard to love an adopted child like your own.

    They are angry about this movie line but are perfectly content that their adopted child has a birth certificate that was permanently sealed from him/her and a falsified "amended" one issued.

    Adoptees have to live their lives carrying around amended birth certificates and are NEVER allowed to see their original birth certificates containing their true names and the names of his/her true biological parents. Adopting parents get to have their names placed on the amended certificates as the birth parents! What lies!!!! These violations of a childs rights does not concern the protestors because it works for them! It is not their ethnicities, their heritages that are sealed. No, their newly purchased child will be forced to accept these lies are his/her truth. These self-righteous people own the copyrights to their adopted child's identity and could care less that it's FICTION that is on their child's birth certificate.

    It is downright disgraceful and pathetic what people choose to protest.

    I'm wearing my Orphan movie t-shirts on opening day: http://www.cafepress.com/orphanesther because getting angry over one-liners and not giving a hoot about our (adoptees) civil rights is laughable.

    Please support Esther by signing this petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/orphan-movie-t-shirts-for-open-records because no one should have to kill for their birth certificate.

  6. Dear Anonymous,
    I've been waiting for this post. You guys are getting around! I've seen this exact reply on numerous adoptive websites, and if I google the phrases you've written, I get over 2,000 hits. So I am assuming that this is a spamming effort to sell t-shirts as opposed to an actual person with actual concerns about rights of adoptees, but I will reply to the concerns either way.

    "These self-righteous people own the copyrights to their adopted child's identity and could care less that it's FICTION that is on their child's birth certificate. "

    Actually, most of the adoptive parents I know are on your side. Your tone is incredibly judgemental and your words are presumptive and generalizing, so it's hard to feel like rallying with your effort, but I completely agree that it is silly that birth certificates are sealed. When I applied for my own son's birth certificate I thought it was total b.s. that his birthparent's names were removed. But your accusation that we "self-righteous people" hold the copyright is inaccurate. Each state legislates whose names go on adoptive birth certificates, not the parents, and in order for a child to share the last name of their family, it needs to be altered. I think your ire would be better spent writing the legislative powers-that-be to change these rules.

    If, by chance, you are a real person, then I hope you will return and write something genuine about how sealed birth records have affected your life. But I'm not sure what my annoyance with this film has to do with that, other than a creative attempt at selling something and profiting off the debate

  7. Anonymous12:49 AM

    I dont see what the big deal is.
    Its just a movie meant to entertain. Its not about bringing up personal problems and issues on adopting.Its not meant to be taken seriously.None of it is real.
    Its just a movie.You people need to lighten up and stop taking things so seriously.everything isnt about you. get a life.
    This movie wasnt intended to bring out your mental problems and issues so you can drive other people crazy over your own mental problems. If it worries you that much, see a shrink to find out why. get help.You may need help
    telling the difference between
    Fake and Reality. this movie is
    not real. get help if you think it is.

  8. Dear Anonymous from Andalusia, Alabama,
    Thank you for your feedback. I actually DID think the movie was for real, and now your well-written letter has prevented me from needing to see a shrink about my mental problems. Now, might I recommend one for yourself to figure out why you like googling "orphan movie adoption" and then leaving anonymous comments? Also, might I recommend a remedial grammar course?

  9. Great post. I am not surprised that the makers of the film didn't think about how offensive all that is to so many people, mainly children.

    I am an adoptive mom of 2, and I am constantly taken aback by how insensitively Hollywood treats adoption. Have you seen "Meet the Robinsons?" I saw it with my 7 year old, and I was ready to walk out at one point, but he loved it bc it was in 3-d. I am still regularly reassuring him and his sister that people do not interview and choose their children, or take them back if it isn't perfect for that matter.

    I find it so strange that adoption is so common now, not at all hidden, yet crazy stereotypes of adopted children still abound, especially in Hollywood.

  10. Anonymous8:38 AM

    Speaking of main stream movies, have you seen Martian Child? It's a Hollywood movie so it's not perfect, but I think it makes an attempt at showing what attachment issues are like and how hard it is for both the adopting and the adopted.


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