Blue Bayou

At the Cannes Film Festival in July, a journalist from the Netherlands thanked the director and star Justin Chon for his movie, which centers on a Korean American adoptee. Chon isn’t actually adopted like his subject, Louisiana bayou-bred Anthony LeBlanc, whom he plays in the movie. The film premieres Sept 17th.

LeBlanc is a tattoo artist with a criminal record. Like many adoptees in the real world, LeBlanc was never naturalized and risks being sent to a country he barely knows, prompting questions around citizenship, belonging, family — and who gets to be considered American. 

Chon said his Korean heritage and the experiences of friends in his immediate community in part compelled him to examine the issues surrounding international adoption. The practice began during wartime “babylifts” after World War II and subsequent conflicts when the U.S. asserted its power in part by “rescuing” orphans from communism to demonstrate its goodwill.

In 1955, the practice was further formalized when an evangelical couple, Henry and Bertha Holt, successfully advocated for the right to adopt Korean “war orphans” through an act of Congress. The couple later launched Holt International Children’s Services, the first large-scale international adoption organization. Foreign born babies those adopted by US parents before 2000 weren’t automatically granted citizenship. 

Chon said that to bring the sort of tenderness and care the subject deserved, he first pored over research and news articles about similar cases. One of the most publicized was the deportation of Adam Crapser, who was adopted from South Korea. He endured abuse and later abandonment by two sets of adoptive parents, none of whom filed for his citizenship. Crapser, who had several arrests on his record, was deported in 2016. 

Variety wrote in a review that “Justin Chon’s Blunt-Force Melodrama Takes on the Injustices of America’s Immigration System.” The system is the system, and its rules and loopholes exist to punish more than they protect. The movie holds little back as it rails against the cruelties and hypocrisies of American immigration law to stirring effect. 

At the film’s outset, it’s clear LeBlanc has turned his life around from rough beginnings. Having spent his childhood passed from one adoptive and foster family to another, and having endured a stint in prison for motorcycle theft, he has finally found emotional stability in the home he shares with Kathy and Jessie, her daughter from a previous relationship, who regards him adoringly as her true dad. 

“Where are you really from?” It’s an invasive question that’s awfully familiar to people of color, one that intrudes its way into our everyday lives. Though it can have innocent intentions, it’s often hostile and only works to invalidate your livelihood. You don’t really belong here, is the true meaning that lurks under that query. As the closing titles inform us, tens of thousands of adoptees have been deported from the United States, thanks to an exploited loophole in a law that only protects children born after 1983. 

What Blue Bayou does wonderfully in quiet moments is illustrate that being Asian is not a one-size-fits-all identity but a vast tapestry of different cultures. I’ve not seen this movie yet, of course, but I think I would like to. New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. My maternal grandmother went there to try to convince Georgia Tann to give her baby girl back to her but it failed and my mom was taken to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother.

Black Widow

I was attracted to write about this film when I read an article in Time magazine about it. There is certainly the issue of infertility. But what really got my attention was when I read that in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, she relates to Hulk’s insecurity over turning into an actual green beast. She describes herself as a “monster” because of her forced hysterectomy and inability to bear children. In her childhood, she lives with a couple masquerading as her family. How many adoptees feel like that their whole lives ? (Hint – many – and that is being generous).

This is the part that surprised me – both Victoria Alonso (executive VP at Marvel Studios) and Cate Shortland (the solo female director) are BOTH adoptive mothers. Therefore, it was important to them personally to talk about the idea that the fact that you do not bear children does not mean that you are less than. In the movie, Natasha (Black Widow) and her sister Yelena (assumed to become her successor) have frank conversations about children (or the lack thereof), careers and their futures. They even make improbably funny jokes about their forced hysterectomies.

By all early accounts, this is considered a good film. We’ll see after some reviews have come out. The release date was July 9th (I’ll wait for the dvd). Here’s the movie trailer.

Together Together

So, I just learned about this movie today. The movie has a 92% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It is defined as a comedy and I did LOL at some moments in the youtube movie trailer. The short summary of the movie’s plot is this – A young loner becomes a surrogate mother for a single, middle-aged man who wants a child. Their unexpected relationship soon challenges their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

I do have feelings about surrogacy and have know of some surrogate pregnancies. Since learning so much about baby’s bonding with the mother who is carrying them in her womb, I am honestly not in favor of it. I do know of one case of a woman’s mother being the surrogate for her daughter who could not carry to term. I am okay with that situation, especially because “grandma” will be in that baby’s life.

According to a Roger Ebert review – You go into (the movie) thinking you know what you’re getting into, and feeling impatient or dismissive as a result, because the movie conspicuously makes choices that seem intended to announce which boxes it’s about to check off. Then it keeps confounding you—in a way that’s understated rather than show-offy—until you have to accept it on its own terms. It’s the perfect storytelling tactic for a movie about a surrogate mother and her patron, a divorced man 20 years her senior. The main characters don’t fully appreciate each other until they quit trying to categorize their relationship and let it be whatever it’s going to be, while trying not obsess over what’ll happen once the baby is born. 

As it turns out, this is not the kind of film where the leads overcome social obstacles and live happily every after as husband and wife. In fact, it turns out to be a rare film about two characters you’ve never seen in a movie. They initially seem cut from middling romantic comedy cloth.  Matt and Anna quickly disclose shared feelings of loneliness and aloneness (different concepts) and talk about their troubled pasts. 

Matt’s marriage collapsed but he decided to have a kid anyway, using his own sperm and a donated egg. Anna got pregnant in college, gave the baby up for adoption, and earned the double-ire of her parents, who considered her a failure both for having an unplanned pregnancy and not keeping the kid. As with any donor conception, it’s complicated. Money is involved. Just don’t expect an ending that answers the question: Now what ?

But then – What’s Love Got To Do With It ? Just for fun . . . .

Misplaced Priorities

I could sound like a broken record stuck on repeat but here goes anyway.

Society’s first priority should be the support of and encouragement for natural families.  I was reading today about how many churches have programs to assist those persons who provide foster care or are adopting a child with all kinds of useful items.  Why don’t we do this for struggling families ?  Particularly now with the economic impacts of the COVID pandemic, when people are being evicted, worried about feeding their families due to a loss of income or expecting the electricity, gas and/or water to be cut off anytime.  It is bad enough that looking for one’s weekly grocery items feels like living in a third world country instead of what we had thought of the United States as – a first world country – but it seems we have lost that standing to greed and corruption at the top of the government and among the wealthiest citizens.

Okay, enough of my political rant but really ?  Check out this wish list recently posted by a church for new foster parents to help them “get by” –

Lots of food of all kinds.  For example, gift cards to restaurants, fast dinners like Bertoli pasta bags, frozen pizzas, PF Chang’s frozen dinners or even ready to eat, hot meals delivered throughout the first two weeks. Lots of requests for babysitting options such as volunteers that can come and watch the kids while you run errands, provide the freedom for a date night out, or a day of rest or time to enjoy adult activities, maybe even just take a nap or be quiet for an hour.  A full house deep clean from a local cleaning company or maid service.  Car detailing, “movie night” (dvd or Redbox code, popcorn, candies/snacks), board games, amazon gift cards and gas cards (for all the appointments).  A deal with a furniture store for a percentage off of bunk beds, dressers, lamps, etc.  Gift cards for lessons to whatever… swim, music, baseball, haircuts, lawncare, homecare/maintenance, bug man, carcare/maintenance, pretty much anything a regular family would need/use.

Notice something ?  A pattern is emerging.  It all about the adults, the parents, and not about the traumatized children placed with them.  And wouldn’t a struggling family be content with less frivolous luxuries ?  The priorities of charitable people need to be reconsidered and revised to help families stay intact, instead of tearing them apart.