Adopted reveals the grit rather than the glamour 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.Ms. Lee, with Co-Producer Nancy Kim Parsons and others, weaves the stories of two families, the west coast Feros and east coast Trainers, and into a moving portrayal of adoption's paradox. The stories could be those of a single family working its way through the challenges that come at different points along the way. I saw my pre-adoption self in the Trainers, who were in the early stages of the adoption process. We watch them experience their homestudy, the acceptance of a little girl from China, travel to China to meet and return with their daughter, and the first few months of their lives back in the States. Their joy brought back a lot of beautiful memories from my children’s arrivals and first years with us. But when adoptive mom Jacqueline Trainer comments not long after their return that daughter Roma did all her grieving on the plane, I winced. I remember thinking similar thoughts when my children first arrived, back when love could conquer all.
Jennifer Fero’s struggle for recognition and self-defined identity is nothing short of heroic. Her family is extremely close, and at during filming was preparing for the death of Jennifer’s adoptive mother, Judy, from cancer. In one poignant scene, Jennifer explains how important it is to her for Judy to validate her Korean family. Judy responds that she wants Jennifer all to herself. The scene ends with mother and daughter visibly distraught, and with viewers sharing the hopelessness conveyed by their pain.
Similar moments throughout the movie brought me back in time or propelled me into the future. The Trainers are my past – hopeful, joyful, full of love for the child they now call their own. Jennifer, however, turns my eyes to the future. Her story is a cautionary tale that reminds me how deeply we are defined by our genetic and ethnic heritage. When deprived of them, we cannot thrive.
More about adoption and the film on the Adopted blog.