I marveled at the beautifully textured visuals. I laughed and chuckled at the everyday humor. I nodded while identifying with the personal experiences of the characters. I shook my head in disbelief at how a film could capture so much of the topics/issues involved in adoption. I appreciated the film’s willingness to portray the main character in totality – the good, bad, ugly, and taboo. I cried along with most of the audience at the film’s conclusion, even though the ending was too abrupt and tidy. I walked to my car thinking, “The irony that Approved For Adoption, an animated film about one adoptee’s experience, is more real, humane, relatable, and full of goodness and heart than the live action documentary Stuck, the epitome of a bad documentary – manipulative and dangerous.”
Last week, both Approved For Adoption and Stuck played during the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. I have gushed about the former before, and will continue to do so in the months to come as it (hopefully) gets the wide release treatment. I have trashed the latter and will do so here for the last time because I’m tired of giving it additional publicity and, frankly, done thinking about how awful it is. And it is awful.
Stuck is manipulative and misleading. Sure, it’s slick, emotive, and obviously had a nice budget. Also, it’s good to see that one of the numerous adoptive parents featured is an African American woman. With all that said, the world the film paints simply does not exist. For example, if a person were to solely base her opinions about the “villainous” Ambassador Susan Jacobs just from the film, she would naturally come to the conclusion that Ambassador Jacobs is a heartless bureaucrat who could care less about the plight of waiting adoptive parents. I have met Ambassador Jacobs, and I can unequivocally guarantee she is adoptive parent friendly and very “pro-adoption” in the traditional sense of the term.
Additionally, the film would like to lead viewers to believe that the US federal and state governments are not wholly behind this thing called “culture of adoption”, something Stuck and its producer Craig Juntunen of Both Ends Burning wish to foster. So inaccurate. Indeed, some of the processes that the federal and state governments have individuals interested in adoption go through are at times clunky, but the feds and states are far from being not supportive. After all, they devote entire departments to adoption, the budgets of which come out of the back pockets of we tax payers.
Furthermore, the film’s discussion about the Hague Adoption Convention is a farce at best. If the Hague Adoption Convention is so destructive (a central premise of the film), then why doesn’t the film devote more time to it and offer solutions? And, as a member of a Minnesota adoption agency astutely points out, why doesn’t the film talk about Hague signatory countries instead of focusing most of its time on two non-Hague signatory countries (Haiti and Ethiopia) and one Hague signatory country that is NOT a Hague partner of the US (Vietnam)?
Stuck is racist and ethnocentric. Yes. You read that correctly. It is a racist film that reeks of White privilege. All that viewers see of the “sending countries” (Haiti, Ethiopia, and Vietnam) are images of run down surroundings inhabited by destitute, “third world” people of color who clearly are not equipped to take care of their children, let alone themselves. The brown children, held “captive” and “caged” in decrepit institutions that turn kids into “creatures”, need to be “saved” by White adoptive parents who have the love, money, resources, motivations, power, and connections to people in high places that these third world children’s parents and countries lack. And these brown children, under the watchful eyes of White adoptive parents, grow up to be well adjusted, educated, happy, funny, super cute kids and teenagers living the American dream. Thus, how dare the US federal government, state governments, the Hague Adoption Convention, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) slow down the international adoption process by championing a broken system that keeps the supposed “10 million children” from a forever family in These United States of America, the greatest and most prosperous country in the world.
Stuck is propaganda. And leading the propaganda is Juntunen, who is every bit the type of politician many have come to distrust. At a luncheon I attended with a few others, Juntunen dodged questions and rarely spoke directly to them. Instead, he quickly moved to stump style prepared notes, dropped irrelevant (and head scratching) statistics, and displayed a clear lack of listening skills. He disassociated himself with the Evangelical Adoption Movement, which has embraced him. He distanced himself from statements made by Senator Mary Landrieu, with whom his organization Both Ends Burning is cozy. But later on that night at the film screening he spoke highly of her, her positions, soon-to-be (re)introduced adoption bill, and a member of her staff. During the luncheon, he pointedly noted that he and Both Ends Burning are doing work to help families in the sending countries raise their children. Nevertheless, later that day some of the attendees of the luncheon were treated to a film that showcased nothing resembling original family preservation, and, perhaps more troubling, attitudes of adoptive parents expressing not-so-nice perspectives about their children’s country of origin. While Juntunen went out of his way to say during the luncheon that Stuck wasn’t “his”, at the screening he basked in the limelight offered by the captive audience that consisted mostly of White adoptive parents, told them exactly what they wanted to hear, and referred to Stuck as “my film”, which was perhaps a Freudian Slip that offered a glimmer into his psyche. To paraphrase the film’s tagline, Stuck is not just Juntunen’s movie, it’s his movement.
I marveled at the mostly White audience. I was shocked by how much sympathy I felt toward the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota/Children’s Home Society & Family Service’s staff sitting in front of me as attendees cackled about finger prints, the numerous collection of which is necessary in adoption. I stared in disbelief as I watched underage children being used to reinforce the film’s ideas, which literally would send adoption as a practice back to the 1950s; I asked myself at one point, “Did that young Asian adoptee just say she likes being ‘exotic’, and did the audience just laugh with/at her?” I sat disappointed during the Q&A as I witnessed adoptive parents and some adoptees offer admiration and accolades to Juntunen. “Minnesota, one of the hubs of adoption,” I thought, “yes, adoption as a practice needs improvement, but we’re better than this snake oil.”