Adoptee Journeys, Search & Reunion, Birth Family Loss, Adoption Loss, Race, Identity
This list of movies and documentaries was chosen to present personal, heart felt adoption experiences from the point of view of adoptees and original / birth families. These are not feel-good adoption stories, but rather true, challenging, and often heartbreaking stories of real people living the complexity and paradox of adoption (one is a Hollywood movie which is fictional but realistic). If you are an adoptee or birth mother needing to know you are not alone, an adoptive parent conflicted about the possibility of your child experiencing adoption loss or undecided about making contact with your children’s birth family, or feel unsure about taking a homeland visit, please view some of these films and witness the importance of roots, history, and family. Ethiopian stories are listed first, however the rest are in no particular order.
Girl, Adopted – Directed by Melanie Judd and Susan Motamed. Adopted is a contemporary coming-of-age story that follows 13-year-old Weynsht from her orphanage in Ethiopia’s capital city to an adoptive American family in rural Arkansas. The documentary film captures an irrepressibly adolescent Weynsht as she works to figure out who she is in the aftermath of her adoption. The documentary follows her struggle to find love among strangers in the U.S. and to understand what to make of this love on an unexpected return trip to Ethiopia. The film revolves around the central question: what is it like to get everything you need but to lose everything you know? Themes: International Adoption, Ethiopian Adoption, Homeland Travel, Transracial Adoption, Adoption Loss
Live and Become – The magnificent, epic story of an Ethiopian boy who is airlifted from a Sudanese refugee camp to Israel in 1984 during Operation Moses. Shlomo is plagued by two big secrets: He is neither a Jew nor an orphan, just an African boy who survived and wants, somehow, to fulfill his Ethiopian mother’s parting request that he “go, live, and become.” Buoyed by a profound and unfaltering motherly love – both in his memory and in the arms of his adoptive mother – he ultimately finds an identity and a happiness all his own. Themes: Refugees, Adoptees, Israel, Ethiopia, Transracial Adoption, Secrets, Returning Home, Roots
Mercy Mercy – Directed by Katrine Kjaer. The short version of the story goess… At first sight, adoption seems like a win-win situation: a poor orphan gets some loving parents and a good life. But the world of adoption is a question of supply and demand, with Ethiopia as a chief supplier of thousands of needy children. The fact that the well-being of the child is not always top priority becomes painfully clear in this tragic story about Masho and her little brother Roba. Themes: Birth Parent Loss, Adoptee Adjustment, Disruption, Corruption in Adoption, Transracial Adoption, International Adoption. This documentary appears to be unavailable at this time but keep it in mind because it is really a must-see documentary about Ethiopian adoption.
Internal Flight – Documentary on Lemn Sissay. Poet Lemn Sissay returns to Ethiopia to find his father’s side of the family. Lemn was never adopted; he was in foster care in the UK for much of his childhood. Themes: Adoption Loss, Search and Reunion, Roots, Family
Lemn Sissay’s Homecoming, Part 1 – We all leave. We all migrate from childhood to adulthood, from village to town to city, from single to married. We all hate and love where we are from. We are all immigrants of time. There are problems with home and a need to leave. There is a love of home and a need to leave. Goodbye is who we are. In Lemn Sissay’s Homecoming, Lemn Sissay explores what “home” means through stand-up, poetry and conversation. It’s surely not just a physical location – it’s the people, the memories, the feeling. It’s not home if you don’t belong there, it’s just where you live. Theme: What is Home? This may not be available for long but an updated link will be posted when available. Part 2 is forthcoming. See Lemn Sissay for more information.
Dan Rather Presents: Unwanted in America-The Shameful Side of International Adoption – use the password danrather. Over the past 15 years, roughly 250,000 children have been adopted into the U.S. Experts estimate that as many as 10% of these international adoptions could be ending in failure. In fact, this report uncovers that there are no official numbers, and no government agency keeping track of internationally adopted children on U.S. soil. In this hard-hitting documentary, Rather exposes the trauma being dealt by a neglectful industry, where many of these children are cast off into a twisted underground network of internet chat rooms by adoptive parents who have changed their minds. Bringing the children to the forefront, Rather gives a voice to these innocent victims who have been failed and betrayed by a broken system. Themes: Adoption Disruption, Adoptee Loss, Adoptee Adjustment, Rehoming, Failed Adoptions, Ethiopian Adoption, Lack of Oversight in Adoption
Closure – a documentary about adoption and reunion by Angela Tucker and Bryan Tucker. Angela, an African-American, was raised by a Caucasian couple in a large, multiracial family in Washington State. She was adopted at the age of one from foster care in the state of Tennessee, under the terms of a closed adoption. As Angela grew older it became apparent that the unanswered questions about her birth story would continue to haunt her if she did not attempt to find some answers. Filmed and edited by her husband Bryan, this documentary follows Angela for two years during the search for her birth family. Several twists and surprising revelations ultimately lead Angela and her family across the country to her place of birth. It is here where Angela comes face to face with her birth mother for the first time, and meets family members who had never known she was even born – including her birth father. Themes: Adoptees, Search and Reunion
Finding Seoul – a film by John Sanvidge. Finding Seoul follows one individual as he attempts to find his birth parents. John Sanvidge was raised in upstate New York and brought up in an Irish and Italian household with his two siblings, who are also adopted. During his journey, he visits with his adoptive family to help them understand why he’s made the decision to look now and travels to Seoul, South Korea all in an attempt to reconnect with a world he doesn’t understand. Themes: Search and Reunion, Roots, International Adoption
You Follow – directed by Sharmila Ray. In 2009 Nisha Grayson packed her bags with four of her closest friends, and set out on a journey from the home she had known for 28 years in Sacramento CA, off to her birthplace in Goa India – it was a quest for answers, family and true identity. You Follow chronicles the experiences of an adoptee with a mind full of questions, and heart full of determination. When steps in the right direction lead to forks in the road, when loyalty and commitment come from unlikely strangers – Nisha faces an emotional series of unexpected challenges and tests of her character. Beginning May 31, 2015, this movie will be available here. Themes: Search and Reunion, Adoptees, Birth Family, Roots, Identity
A Girl Like Her – a film by Anne Fessler. A GIRL LIKE HER reveals the hidden history of over a million young women who became pregnant in the 1950s and 60s and were banished to maternity homes to give birth, surrender their children, and return home alone. They were told to keep their secret, move on and forget. But, does a woman forget her child? Themes: Baby Scoop Era, Forced Adoption, Secrecy, Personal Stories, Illegitimate Pregnancy, Birth Mother Loss
First Person Plural – by Deann Borshay Liem. In 1966, Deann Borshay Liem was adopted by an American family and sent from Korea to her new home in California. There the memory of her birth family was nearly obliterated, until recurring dreams led her to investigate her own past, and she discovered that her Korean mother was very much alive. Bravely uniting her biological and adoptive families, Borshay Liem embarks on a heartfelt journey in this acclaimed film that first premiered on POV in 2000. First Person Plural is a poignant essay on family, loss and the reconciling of two identities. Themes: Search and Reunion, Adoption Fraud, Adoption Loss, Identity, Adoptees
Somewhere Between – a documentary by Linda Goldstein Knowlton. In profiling Chinese adoptees in contemporary America, Linda Goldstein Knowlton (THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SESAME STREET) has created a deeply moving documentary illustrating that even the most specific of experiences can be universally relatable. Of the roughly 80,000 girls who have been adopted from China since 1989—a decade after China implemented its One Child Policy—the film intimately follows four teenagers: Haley, Jenna, Ann, and Fang. These four wise-beyond-their-years, yet typical American teens, reveal a heartbreaking sense of self-awareness as they attempt to answer the uniquely human question, “Who am I?” Themes: Transracial Adoption, Identity, Race, Adoptees, International Adoption
Off and Running – a film by Nicole Opper. Off and Running tells the story of Brooklyn teenager Avery, a track star with a bright future. She is the adopted African-American child of white Jewish lesbians. Her older brother is black and Puerto Rican and her younger brother is Korean. Though it may not look typical, Avery’s household is like most American homes — until Avery writes to her birth mother and the response throws her into crisis. She struggles over her “true” identity, the circumstances of her adoption and her estrangement from black culture. Just when it seems as if her life is unraveling, Avery decides to pick up the pieces and make sense of her identity, with inspiring results. Themes: Reunion, Identity, Transracial Adoption, Gay Adoption
In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee – a documentary by Deann Borshay Liem. Her passport said she was Cha Jung Hee. She knew she was not. So began a 40-year deception for a Korean adoptee who came to the United States in 1966. Told to keep her true identity secret from her new American family, the 8-year-old girl quickly forgot she had ever been anyone else. But why had her identity been switched? And who was the real Cha Jung Hee? In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee is the search to find the answers, as acclaimed filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem (First Person Plural, POV 2000) returns to her native Korea to find her “double,” the mysterious girl whose place she took in America. Themes: Identity, Search, International Adoption
Adopted – a documentary by Barb Lee. 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. Themes: the complexity of adoption, family connections, naivete of new adoptive parents, International Adoption, Transracial Adoption
Philomena – based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith. Philomena is the true story of one mother’s search for her lost son. Falling pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena was sent to the convent of Roscrea to be looked after as a “fallen woman”. When her baby was only a toddler, he was taken away by the nuns for adoption in America. Philomena spent the next fifty years searching for him in vain. Themes: A birth / first / original mother’s search for her son, Loss of a Child, Birth Mother Grief
Adoptees in the Wild at Gazillion Voices – Short films of adoptees being interviewed by fellow adoptee John Sanvidge. This site requires a subscription and some of the movies listed are not complete. Themes: Search and Reunion, Adoptees, Race, Transracial Adoption, International Adoption
Mother and Child – starring Annette Benning, Naomi Watts, and Kerry Washington. Mother and Child is an American drama film directed and written by Rodrigo García. It premiered on September 14, 2009, at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2010, and was the closing night selection within Maryland Film Festival 2010. It was given a limited release in the United States beginning May 7, 2010. Themes: Adoptee loss, Birth / First / Original Mother loss, Prospective Adoptive Parents, Search and Reunion
Unlocking the Heart of Adoption – a film by birthmother Sheila Ganz. The 56 minute documentary Unlocking the Heart of Adoption bridges the gap between birth and adoptive families through diverse personal stories of adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents in same race and transracial adoptions interwoven with the filmmaker’s story as a birthmother revealing the enormous complexities in their lives with fascinating historical background. Themes: Adoption Loss, Birth Mothers, Adoptive Parents, Adoptees, Transracial Adoption
Paper Orphans – Arjun is a paper orphan. Six years ago he was adopted from the Krishna Balmandir orphanage in Nepal by an American couple. His biological mother Khanchi contacted Jurgen (“Action for Child Rights”) – she had no idea what had happened to her son. So Jurgen began searching for Arjun’s adoptive parents. Themes: Adoption, International Adoption, Orphans, Birth Parent Searching for Child, Child Trafficking in Adoption
Daughter from Danang – A heartbreaking documentary that upsets your expectations of happily-ever-afters, Daughter from Danang is a riveting emotional drama of longing, identity, and the personal legacy of war. Fearing for her daughter’s safety at the war’s end, Hiep’s mother sent her to the U.S. on “Operation Babylift”, a Ford administration plan to relocate orphans and mixed-race children to the U.S. for adoption before they fell victim to a frighteningly uncertain future in Vietnam after the Americans pulled out. Mother and daughter would know nothing about each other for 22 years. Themes: International Adoption, Search and Reunion, Operation Babylift, Vietnam