Wednesday, September 08, 2010

White Mommies, Black Girl, Riveting Film

Last night I watched the second film of a three-part documentary series on PBS about adoption. The movie was called Off and Running and tackled the issue of transracial adoption. On the surface, Off and Running followed the journey of a young African-American teen -- Avery Klein-Cloud, adopted by White lesbian mothers, who was searching for her birth mother. But Avery's real quest was to find herself.

Like most documentaries, this film did an excellent job allowing the main subject, Avery, to tell her own story simply by watching her carry-on in her everyday life. When the film opens, Avery is sending off the first letter to her birth mom, asking for answers about her origins and her birth family. It's only after the birth mother stops responding to Avery's request for contact, that things start spiraling out of control in the Klein-Cloud household.

I don't want to give away too much of what happens, but it's not like this is a movie of the week. In fact, if you'd like to stop reading here, and go watch the film on the POV website, then please do... but then come back. The point I'm trying to make is that what happens to Avery as she struggles with trying to discover what it means to be Black, was quite predictable. At least to me it was. It was sad to watch, and yet nothing surprised me. The more Avery felt rejected by her birthmother, the more she rebelled against her White mothers, and the more she sought out the company of other Black people to, "teach her how to be more African-American." The choices she made, the people she started hanging out with, the predicament she found herself in, and yes, even the way she started wearing her hair (can you say weave?) all come straight from the 'how to be Black in America' handbook. I should know, because even though I was raised by my Black parents, I was always surrounded by White people and felt woefully underprepared to be an authentic Black girl in America.

That being said, what was brilliant about the film is that Avery also had two adopted brothers. Her older brother is Black and Puerto Rican, and her younger brother is Korean. And whereas Avery struggled so profoundly with her racial identity, her older brother did not. Or at least, from what we saw in the film, he did not. So his presence in the film forced me and any other person watching to acknowledge that while Avery's journey may feel familiar, it isn't necessarily the norm. Every child who is transracially adopted will have their own journey and their own struggles. And hopefully, their parents will have the confidence and grace to help them get through it.

I can't say I loved the film, because in some ways it was painful to watch. Many times I wanted to jump into the TV and shake little Avery and tell her that the way she was trying to reconcile her past with her present was just making things worse. And other times I wanted to shake her parents and tell them that they were doing things all wrong. But I think at the end of the day, that's what good documentaries are supposed to make you do. Shake your fist at injustice and then get off your ass and do something about it.

Did anyone else watch the movie? What did you think?

I'm listening.



JBH said... beat me to the punch. I'll be writing my own review/post on my blog later.

I did watch it and I did like it much better than the first in the three-part series. It was "predictable" for some of us. But I think it was still eye-opening for others.

I felt sad for her struggles - but overall, a good film.

Will ask my mother what she thought, too.

Amy said...

I saw the movie last night for the second time so I have had some time to "marinate" on the film. I am the white adoptive mother of 3 African American daughters. The first time I saw the movie was in a committee meeting to plan the community screening of the film last night. I was all snot and tears at the first viewing. The story broke my heart because for me, Avery was my daughter x 3 grown up. And it scared me.

I am working so hard to incorporate culture, pay attention to their racial socialization, master the hair (which I have), and put myself in the minority as often as possible. I just don't want them to know more pain than necessary. I believe Avery's moms thought they were doing right by her and it is clear they love her. But as I named a chapter in my book, love is not enough.

Thanks for sharing!

Honeysmoke said...

You summed it up perfectly for me. I wanted to shake some sense into Avery and her parents. I hope she is doing well. Oh, and thanks for the note at Shewrites. I'm on my way ...