As an adult adoptee and media-studies scholar, I am increasingly alarmed at the under-representation of first-person adoptee voices in American media. The process and experience of adoption has always been a popular theme explored (and exploited) in both television and film, with recent examples ranging from the critically acclaimed film “Juno,” to ABC’s 2009 series “Find My Family,” and the story of Catelynn, the birth mother in MTV’s series “16 and Pregnant.” There are countless other examples.You might also be interested in this blog post about the non-adopted reaction to adoptee/AP complaints about that line in the Avengers. I didn't get bullying reactions to what I posted, but I sure got defensive reactions! A friend on facebook, who I don't think regularly reads my blog but loved the Avengers movie, even commented that as the uncle of adoptees, he could tell me that I was overreacting! Always love that kind of "some of my best friends are black" explanation for why something isn't racist, so of course I was completely persuaded by this argument when it came to adoptism!
While adoption is a theme addressed in popular media, adoptee voices are rare for a number of reasons. First, the stigma surrounding adoption may make adoptees more reluctant to speak out. Although many online adoptee communities do exist, communication is often exchanged anonymously for fear of “outing” birth mothers or other family members. Second, adoptees often feel that our dissent at representations of adoption might be perceived as critical of our own life experience, an injury to the families that have loved us and raised us. However, it seems only appropriate that the media should attempt (when possible) to balance popular media with the lived experiences of adoptees.
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As more and more Americans seek to build their families through domestic and international adoption, why did a joke about adoption play so well? And if it played so well here in the U.S., will it play even better in other regions in which adoption is not as socially or culturally accepted? No doubt, some will think adoptees are overreacting. But what does this mean for adoptees, and perpetuating the stigma surrounding adoptee status?
I am embarrassed that Marvel and Disney would include such a cheap one-liner in their film. But I am not embarrassed to admit that I am adopted. And I am not embarrassed to admit that I walked out of their movie. Because no real hero would so casually dismiss family.
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