Sunday, August 14, 2011

Adoption in Hollywood

I love drive-in movies. Fresh night air, relaxing in fold-up lounge chairs under the open stars, cheap popcorn, happy children, and playing Frisbee during intermission. This summer I promised my youngest son, Aaron, that we’d go every available weekend, provided he got chores done. I fear I am becoming lax in my old age - I began allowing him to view PG-13s at the tender age of 12 years, 6 months, whereas I made my three older children wait to age 13 (not a day before). Aaron and I share a special bond because we are both the Youngest Child of four siblings. As youngest children, we are destined to be at once annoying and adorable. We notice everything. We feel privileged because we get away with stuff our older sibs didn’t. We know how to stay out of the way (a survival skill if you have big brother), yet we will be stubborn if pushed too hard. We desperately want to be noticed, yet we refuse to overachieve. We don’t like heavy expectations placed upon us. Family members don’t appreciate how capable we are until we reach age 30, when our older siblings first notice that we’ve “grown up.” Had I not been adopted I would have been the oldest child instead of youngest. My lot would have been to be responsible, intense, type A. I don’t know if I would have liked that. I just don’t know. So I’ll just like who I’ve become instead. But I digress…

Back to the movies… Hollywood has produced some great adoptee characters through the decades, including Tarzan, Hercules, Superman, Luke Skywalker, Annie and even Darth Vader. Great Hollywood stories unfold amidst adoptees seeking identity. This seeking inevitably produces heroes and villains-- independent, adventuresome, and above all unique.

Of the “family” movies that Aaron and I watched this summer, three films -- Thor, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Planet of the Apes –center on adoption. But all eight movies illuminated an adoption light bulb for me. Orphan stories will also trigger feelings for me, because the quest to know one’s bio parentage is a familiar yearning.

Films I watched: Thor, Pirates 4, X-Men, Kung Fu Panda 2, Captain America, Cowboys and Aliens, Harry Potter and Planet of the Apes. Descriptions are below.

Here’s my quantitative analysis of how adoption was portrayed:
Positive view of adoption -1 movie (Kung Fu Panda 2)
Adoptees don’t fit in with a-family -5 movies
(Thor, X-Men, Panda, Harry Potter, Apes)
Evil/chaotic/disturbed adoptee -4 movies
(Thor, Pirates, X-Men, Apes)
Evil orphan that never got adopted -1 movie
(Harry Potter – Lord Voldemort)
Hero adoptee/orphan -4 movies
(Panda, Harry Potter, Captain America, Cowboy)
Good bio parents -4 movies
(X-Men, Harry Potter, Apes)
Bad bio parents -3 movies
(Thor, Pirates, Harry Potter – Tom Riddle, Sr.)
Good adoptive parents -3 movies
(Thor, Panda, Apes)
Silly adoptive parents -1 movies
(Harry Potter)
Bad adoptive parents -1 movies (X-Men – Prof Schmidt)

All of the good bio parents met with a violent death, with the exception of Panda's father. Two adoptive parents obtained their children through unethical means (Thor and Apes), yet we still see them as “good parents.” None of the films portrayed courageous bio parents who made a loving choice to place their child with another family; perhaps that’s because these types of adoptions produce regular people with low internal conflict – not exactly the material for a movie hero. Does Hollywood influence our culture’s perceptions of adoption? Or does Hollywood mirror our perceptions?

Kung Fu Panda 2 – Po the Panda’s mother is killed by the evil peacock Shen. Po is found and adopted by a goose. When Po discovers his past, he struggles for a while, and then realizes that he has lived a happy and fulfilling life despite this tragedy. Po attains Inner Peace, which allows him to conquer Shen and save the day.

Thor – Thor’s younger brother, Loki, is the classic evil adopted sibling. Odin, Thor’s father, steals Loki from the Frost Giants. Odin and Thor have kept Loki’s identity a secret, but he eventually figures it out. Loki is treacherous, betraying both his bio and adoptive families.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – From all of the previous HP books and films, we knows Harry is orphaned and then raised by his silly Aunt and Uncle. Harry is an adopted misfit, a square peg living amongst the round hole of the Dursley family. Harry’s arch nemesis is Lord Voldemort, whose non-adopted status turns him into a bitter child who turns to evil.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – My favorite film of the summer. Caesar the Chimpanzee is adopted by scientist Will Rodman. Caesar eventually decides he is more comfortable with his own kind. He rejects his human upbringing to become leader of a new race of super-smart apes.

X-Men: First Class – The evil Dr. Schmidt murders Magneto’s mother and becomes a surrogate father of sorts. Meanwhile, the child Mystique moves in with the child Professor Xavier, taking on the role of an adopted sister. Magneto and Mystique, the Adopted Ones, turn to evil-- a reaction to their unstable childhoods and struggle for acceptance.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Angelica’s “real father” is the dreaded pirate Blackbeard. (She is Jack Sparrow’s former lover). She reunites with Black Beard when she is grown up. Blackbeard is a stereotypical manipulative, ego-centric absent bio-dad.

Captain America: The First Avenger – Steve Rogers, a bullied scrawny orphan, volunteers for a medical experiment that turns him into Captain America. Not really an adoption theme, but there’s an orphan hero who wishes for different genetics.

Cowboys and Aliens – No adoption theme. Some adoptees might identify with the unnamed hero of the film who doesn’t know his past. This was my least favorite film of the summer.

A few more adoption-themed movies you might want to check out:

The Blind Side (2009) – Based on the true story of Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy who take in a homeless teenage African-American, Michael Oher. Great football action, and an inspiration for prospective parents to consider adopting from foster care.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) – Adopted street urchin kid becomes a prince who saves the world. Has conflicts with two bio brothers but reconciles at the end. I could relate to the sibling conflicts there.

The Spy Next Door (2010) – Teen girl is upset about not being biologically related to anyone she lives with. Jackie Chan, an orphan, reassures her that everybody can be family as long as there is love.

The Country Bears (2002) -- Beary Barrington, a young adopted bear raised by a human family in a world where humans and talking bears coexist, attempts to trace his roots and reconciles with his adoptive family.

Meet the Robinsons (2007) – My personal favorite, through and through. The most poignant part of the film for me is when Lewis travels back in time and witnesses his own relinquishment at the doorstep of an orphanage. He could try to stop his birthmom, or at least talk to her, but he doesn’t. That scene is packed with adoptee triggers.

What films remind you of adoption??? Please leave a comment


Red Hot said...

The movie, Tangled.

Helen said...

Tangled. I loved it! But, I hope it isn't too confusing for my 3-yr-old who was adopted. I try to explain that she was kidnapped, not adopted.

Angee said...

I find Tarzan to be a movie that makes me think of adoption. He is raised with a family of Gorillas and even though he doesn't look like them, he loves them. But he still has that burning desire to find people who look like him.

I also love Anne of Green Gables. It's a great story and the movies are awesome. It's a story of a girl who is an orphan and then adopted when she is 12 by a brother and sister who are in their 50s. She is spirited and wonderful. Definitely an inspiring book. :)

Mary said...

Juno is the first movie that comes to my mind, but I really liked the movie BELLA which isn't as well known.

Nice "Quantitative Analysis" and breakdown of all those films.

Lindsey from The R House said...

I have had Australia on the brain ...and not just because of Hugh Jackman. ;)

Love how transracial adoption is the theme.

birthMOM said...

'i love you phillip morris'.
had no idea adoption was involved!

Lara Zierke said...

A few of my favorites:

Martian Child (foster adoption)
Elf (fairly good example of reunification and happy relationship with adoptive and bio dads)
The Tigger Movie (struggling with unknown origins)
Annie (we never know too much about the bio parents, but what is known is that they loved Annie.)

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