Get Talking About Adoption With Oscar-Nominated Movies

This guest post is by Addison Cooper of Adoption at the Movies

Oscar Award - Hyatt Regency Sha TinOn Sunday March 2, Ellen DeGeneres will be hosting the 86th Academy Awards. Two dozen or so little statues will be given to the filmmakers who have achieved greatness this year.

Two of the nominated films have strong adoption themes.

Philomena, nominated for Best Picture, highlights the journey of sixty-something Philomena Lee. As a teenager, Philomena gave birth in an Irish nursery.

Her son was adopted, and she kept his existence a secret for much of her life. Now, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, she begins to search for him.

There are many good and recent films which show adoptees uncovering their own histories – The Invisible Red Thread (2012), Somewhere Between (2011), and Closure (2013) – are three of them.

Philomena is interesting because it’s the story of a birth parent trying to uncover the history of her adoption. Philomena particularly challenges the harmful stereotypes which have reinforced the idea of closed adoptions as normative and ideal.

Folks considering adoption could watch this film as an invitation to intentionally consider their preconceptions of birthparents, and to imagine how significantly a child’s life is impacted by the decision to have their adoption be open or closed.

The film could be triggering for some people touched by adoption, and doesn’t seem to be a good choice for kids, but it would be particularly interesting for prospective adoptive parents.

In Despicable Me 2 (nominated for Best Animated Feature), former supervillain Gru has been recruited by a secret agency to work against other supervillains. In the first Despicable Me film, Gru tried to adopt three girls from an orphanage in order to use them in a devious plot.

He had a change of heart, and ultimately adopted them for love – but the film had a lot of problems. They were resolved by the sequel, though. Despicable Me 2 shows a well-adjusted adoptive family. Gru is an excellent dad, and his girls are thriving.

The film gets bonus points for being a rare, positive theatrical portrayal of a single adoptive dad. The film even has Gru talk with his youngest daughter about not having a mother in the home. Despicable Me 2 is lively, funny, colorful, and kid-friendly, and would make for a great family movie night.

Some other 2013 films had adoption as part of their story

– some as a significant plotline, others as background information.

Admission is a romantic-comedy-drama (rom-com-dram?) which allows exploration of a couple adoption-related questions: do birthparents think about the children that have been adopted? What motivates adoptive parents?

Les Miserables (OK, OK, it was released on December 25, 2012 – close enough to 2013?) shows the selfless love of Jean Valjean who raises Cosette as his own, but also shows the pain that he inadvertently causes Cosette by keeping some of the past shrouded in secrecy.

Identity Thief lightheartedly explores the damage caused when a person does not have access to information about their own history.

Even the big-budget sci-fi monster flick Pacific Rim shows an adoptive father figure struggling to realize that the little girl who once needed his protection has now matured into an adult.

One of the best films of the year, from an adoption point-of-view, was the retelling of Superman’s story in Man of Steel.

Clark Kent/Cal-El/Superman wrestles with what it means to be both Human and Kryptonian, with what it means to have a human father and a Kryptonian father, and generally struggles to create his identity.

There are some great moments in the film. One of my favorites is a conversation between Clark and his father:

Clark: Can’t I keep pretending I’m your son?
Mr. Kent: You are my son, but you have another father who gave you another name, and he sent you here for a reason, and you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.

I also love the affirmation given to him by his mother:

Mrs. Kent: The truth about you is beautiful. We knew that from the moment we laid eyes on you.

It can be difficult for adoptive families to enter into conversations about adoption.

The topics are so important and so emotionally heavy that families perceive the need to have them, and to have them well – but because the topics are sometimes unique to adoption, families haven’t had many examples of how to have those conversations.

As a result, sometimes families avoid (or at least dread) the big adoption conversations. Films like these can be the bridge into important conversations, though.

We think in stories and communicate in narratives. The right film can be one of the most easily-accessible bridges into much-needed conversations.

Family movie night is an even better idea than you thought.

Addison Cooper is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a fost-adopt supervisor, and a movie lover. He writes movie reviews and discussion guides for foster and adoptive families at Adoption at the Movies, and has also written for Adoptive Families, Foster Focus, and The New Social Worker magazines. He lives near Los Angeles. Find him on Facebook .

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