Meanwhile, back in California, 15 parents in our adoption group gathered on Saturday for a screening of Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s documentary about four teen girls adopted from China, Somewhere Between. I wrote about the movie last June, with a link to the YouTube trailer.
Somewhere Between was far more powerful and provocative than I expected, based on the lukewarm review by Jeannette Catsoulis I’d read in the New York Times. Although now that I think about it, Catsoulis made similar critical observations about Craig Juntunen’s new documentary, Stuck. Do I detect a pattern? In any case, from the NY Times:
Shining a relentlessly rosy light on international adoption and the policies that enable it, “Somewhere Between” presents an effortlessly moving but superficial profile of four bright Chinese girls and their adoptive American families.
Inspired by her own adoption of a Chinese infant, the director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, chooses a soft-focus approach that never digs very deeply into each teenager’s situation. All four appear to have loving surrogate families, but we barely hear from them, and their motives for the adoption remain veiled. Similarly, though China’s one-child policy is blamed for the surge in availability of baby girls after 1979, the truth is more complicated and would have made for a more nuanced and enlightening narrative.
In the lively discussion that followed the screening, our group did not see a “relentlessly rosy light” shining on international adoption. Quite the opposite. We saw adopted teenagers grappling with the same questions, pain, and conflict about identity we’ve witnessed in our own kids. True, these young women are, as Catsoulis writes, “articulate and impressively well-adjusted subjects”—and kudos to them for being fabulous—but that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t challenging. In a poignant scene early in the film, one of the girls touches her pierced ears, saying that she remembers her birth mother piercing her ears, and those holes are the only evidence she has that her birth mother exists. Later, a girl sobs as she describes her need to excel at everything as a way of compensating for being abandoned. Finally, toward the movie’s end, after meeting one teen’s birth family, when everyone else in her family is crying, the young woman doesn’t cry at all. It’s as though her emotions overwhelm her, leaving her unable to react.
What we saw were well-adjusted girls who, every day of their lives, cope with issues of abandonment, racial identity, belonging, and isolation. In other words, the same issues many adoptive families and children face.
On a side note: The cohesion and unity of the Chinese adoptive community made a big impression on us. After the screening, we vowed to do our best to keep our Guatemalan adoptive community active and together, and to dedicate ourselves to creating resources for our children where none may exist.
Somewhere Between is a film I need to watch several times, in order to learn every lesson it can teach. I encourage you to attend a screening of the movie or buy or rent it on DVD. If you watch with a group, allot adequate time to discuss. If not for the call of family obligations, our group might still be talking.
Image credit: Courtesy Linda Goldstein Knowlton