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Snake Oil: The LGA Review of the Film “Stuck”

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.”

24 Comments on Snake Oil: The LGA Review of the Film “Stuck”

  1. You captured many of my thoughts about the film so well. Still struggling on writing my own review, maybe I’ll just send folks here 🙂

  2. Mary A. Coyle // May 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm // Reply

    Kevin, I appreciate your critique of this film. I was sad to hear that LSS and CHSFS were there supporting this film. I still have not seen it, but now I want to purchase it and use it to educate our aparents out here. Do you know if I can purchase it? If so, should I have an educated SW there to help field questions about the film?

    • Mary, I wouldn’t say LSS/CHSFS is supportive. Some of the staff attended the screening, and let’s just say they didn’t stick around for the Q&A. I think you can purchase the film on the main website, but I’m not sure if I would encourage anyone to buy it. Honestly, I don’t know what adoptive parents would get out of it. My suggestion is to contact LSS/CHSFS in Maryland and talk with them about this idea. I hope this helps.

  3. lara/trace // May 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm // Reply

    Reblogged this on lara and commented:
    “Minnesota, one of the hubs of adoption,” I thought, “yes, adoption as a practice needs improvement, but we’re better than this snake oil.”

  4. I just bought a copy – yeah, don’t like putting dollars in their coffers but also feel I may need to watch it more than once. Mary, I’m happy to share when I’m finished.

    I plan to watch it right after watching Mercy Mercy. I want to see if Stuck addresses any of the pain that Mercy Mercy conveys, or if it completely ignores or glosses over it. I’m particularly interested in how Stuck defines “orphans.” I suspect loosely.

  5. One additional thought.

    I am increasingly troubled by adoptive parents, some of whom are friends, who say “We will have to agree to disagree” about certain issues, this film being a good example of one.

    When an issue is downright false, as I suspect much of what is in Stuck is, adoption agencies in particular bear a responsibility for calling bullshit. If an adoptive parent walked out of that showing and the adoption agency personnel did little more than show their discomfort, those APs walk away believing the film is fact. Perhaps the luncheon wasn’t the appropriate forum. I hope, however, that they find a way to set the record straight with adoptive parents and adoptees who use or have used their services. Adoptive parents who promote the Evangelical adoption movement might back off if adoption agencies openly decried it.

  6. I haven’t seen either film nor am likely too but your unease is real to me. Why does the organisation Both Ends Burning bring to my mind vivid images of the KKK?

  7. Thank you!! I have done a couple of posts about the movie but yours is far better than anything I have written

  8. A modern day slave // May 1, 2013 at 10:15 pm // Reply

    The general public is becoming aware that International Adoption is actually a legal form of child trafficking, dressed up in beautiful expensive wrapping paper and tied with a lovely gold bow. The IA industry would like you to believe that you are saving an ‘orphan’ and you will live happily ever after, not only on earth but in heaven too. In reality, IA does nothing to help the real women in need, the real families in need, the real communities in need, the real villages in need, the real countries in need and above all the REAL WORLD in need! Too the adoptee, adoption ends up being a form of emotional slavery with a ‘legal contract’ made by the middle man and the purchasers. ‘Happy adoptees’ are similar to the ‘house’ slaves who were treated as ‘special’ or better then the rest and the ‘happy adoptees’ will feel grateful to their owners. They will protect and love the adoption experience, (because they could have had it worse) and love their adopters with undying devotion. Happy adoptees will support to continue the propanganda. With IA, adoptees have no say in the matter whatsoever over who their new ‘owners’ will be, just like slaves had no say during the ‘slave trade’. Adoptees are put at a ‘lower, more submissive role’ to the adopters, and are expected to ‘honor and obey’, otherwise will be punished by the adopters. If you really think about it, IA is very similar to the slave trade….it’s modern day slavery. It’s putting children on the market to be bought and fill the role of what the owners ‘want’. This is not a humanitarian act, this is a selfish act! The act of buying a child from someone else, disguised as ‘adoption fees’ is a violation of woman’s rights and a violation of human rights. No real parents should have their child manipulated out of their arms because of their socioeconomic or financial status. Only when a mother or father abuses or is harmful to a child should intervention happen. Adoption should not be a multi-billion dollar business. The Hague was created by ‘financially’ interested owners to make sure this modern day ‘slave trade’ continues. Craig Juntunen is a ‘puppet’ and a ‘puppet master’, a slave owner of three, but above all else, a VERY ignorant, egotistical (not to mention ugly) disgrace to humanity. The adoptees that have come out of the fog, the enlightened beings know and understand what is really going on and will do whatever it takes to stop it. The first step to change is awareness, which we are creating right now.

    • Full disclosure, I am an adoptive parent.

      “The adoptees that have come out of the fog, the enlightened beings know and understand what is really going on and will do whatever it takes to stop it.”
      No argument that there’s some nasty stuff going on in IA. But to categorically call every adoptee that does not agree with you “unenlightened”? And a slave to boot?

  9. YOU FELT SORRY FOR LSS!!!!!!! why because they haven’t ruined enough lives. for every sale there is a mom WHO’S HEART BROKE FOREVER do you feel sorry that that they all belong in jail or hell which ever comes first to stop their crimes against humanitykl bdgrbkfera

  10. Jeremy, full disclosure, I am a senior adoptee. Perhaps it is more about adoptees not having reached a place in the adopted life when they’ve seen the light, and understand what adoption is really about. Many don’t reach that point for decades and may do so quite independently.Yes. adoption is often likened to slavery as it has many similarities, far too many to list here,.It would make a post on it’s own. It’s quite a while since I did one on that topic, perhaps it’s time I did over at
    Who could in all conscience could feel sorry for those who promote and run the adoption

    • Quick note, the link did not bring up your blog, however clicking your name brought me here:

      I’ve visited your site on many occasions and have read your comments on various blogs. Thank you for responding to my comment. “A modern day slaves” comment was the first time I had heard the slave comparison and it surprised me.

      Regarding the original comment and what I assume you mean by “Perhaps it is more about adoptees not having reached a place in the adopted life when they’ve seen the light, and understand what adoption is really about.”: does that mean there is only one unequivocal answer to the question of what adoption is about and that some adoptees arrive there and others don’t? And the ones that do not are “in the dark” so to speak?

      I’ve posted over at my site, asking for people to share about international adoption in a post called “Stop International Adoption” in the hopes of better understanding the complexities of IA as much as I can. I agree with many that it is downplayed if not completely marginalized while in the process of adopting. I’d rather be as educated as I can be before my daughter starts asking questions.

      Which makes me wonder; when my daughter turns 20 or 30 (pick an age) and wonders if it is her responsibility as an “enlightened” adoptee to see my wife and I as “slave owners” and herself in turn as a “slave”, and, going even further, to see other adoptees that have no problem with international adoption as what…turncoats? apostates? Uncle Tom’s?

      I will definitely check your site and look for more on the comparisons between adoption and slavery. In my mind the comparison breaks down because the children in adoption are not property. Again, no doubt there are so rather horrible adoption stories out there where that has not been the case, but in theory and god willing in most cases, the children are not treated like property.

      Again, thanks for commenting and posting about this. I’ve actively sought to get more input on this topic and my questions are just that, questions.

      And thanks to Kevin for the review. And for letting the discourse continue.

      • Thanks Jeremy for your considered reply to my comment here.I’m heartened by your remark that you wish to be as educated as you can before your daughter starts asking questions.As you say there are plenty of horrible adoption stories. I’ll take some of your comments to my own blog as I don’t want to divert this thread from it’s purpose.

  11. The comments that imply there aren’t millions of children in the world who need to be adopted are sad and deluded. We live in the richest country in the world and have hundreds of thousands of children available for adoption or in the foster care system. Just imagine third world countries. There will always be children in need of homes, and how ridiculous is it that there are people who want to throw barriers in front of them because of some extreme political ideology? Also, data supports the film’s assertions that international regulations and organizations have harmed children, as seen by the decrease in international adoption as compared to number of children in need of homes.

    • thairader // May 8, 2013 at 2:53 pm // Reply

      Katie, I’m appalled that you’re so quick to categorize critics of this film as “against saving orphans.” That’s not the case at all. The fact is not all children in orphanages are orphans and parents thinking of adopting internationally need to be educated about this fact in addition to the many others left out of “Stuck.” Advocating for more education on foreign policy for prospective parents of international adoptees is not “extreme political ideology.”

  12. what the heck? because we are the richest country we should put a real mom through a lifetime of hell? I dare you katie to find one real mom that doesn’t want her baby and really spend time with her. I dare you! they are in need of homes because sw gamble that a child could be sold if they are coerced from their mothers

  13. I am one of the ‘sad and deluded’ Katie who believe that there aren’t millions of children in the world who need adoption.Children need their own parents, their own country and the sooner we start working on an agenda that makes that possible the better.Wanting the very best for children is not an ‘extreme political ideology’ it is common sense, humane and what is right. Those who are genuinely orphans will need to be cared for much, much better in their own countries where they will not lose their identity, their name, their motherland and culture. It is all possible, feasible and achievable with imaginatioin, committment and work. Yes Amertica probably is the richest country in the world but that doesn’t provide it with privileges over other countries and rights to their children.

  14. Great post Kevin. I was also disgusted with how no adult adoptees were interviewed for this film. The producers seemed to have forgotten that those adorable brown-eyed children grow up with their own views on adoption. I think this film would have had a very different story if they’d spoken to adoptees older than 25. I’ve written my own review, if you care to read:

  15. I am a mother64 that lost a son through adoption.He was planned,I would have stayed married and kept our son but husband gave me a shocking abandonment taking all my savings with him.Adoption agencys I found out aftter them taking my baby had no compassion for tempoeary poverty,in the bible it is no crime to have this happen.What’s really bad after 38 years the SW of the Childrens Home Society told me my my son was found a couple months later,she calls me back a eeply from my email to agency and says he said yes to contact? Occupation told without asking even if it doen’t sound true,she tells me to write him a FIRST LETTER-a couple months later I called ,she Jen says in the archives (back Peddling people have said she was doing) that she lost the letter I wrote as to the why,when,wheres,and what I was like.The P.O. Box was across the street ? sreange place for a wealthy institute to have their mail,what is she lost checks,she complained a lot about all the months after he was found then to tell me to fill out medical forms,and I sent another letter she supposedly lost along with the notorized paper work,she tells me at her time of closing he only wanted a very slow contact and she could never reach him again after their first conversation .I do not know how she managed all this conversation or contact 9 months later with all yhat information that went backwards and her story told on itself as I read the emails she sent and my writings from her calls(one contact and contact at beginning-where did the lost letters come in and the slow contact nine months later,it was obvious she did not like me period,maybe because she honored the adoptives.She had no emotions when I spoke about losing my 1st raised son to a fatal motor and bicycle crash-my son 43 almost 2 years ago was killed, now I need to see my son they took away from me as he was plannedmore than ever .Adoptees tell me to step up the search but the SW has me in a catch 22,she needs some kind of mental help and or I need a very good mediariary.Not all people are this way but on this planet no one can dispute that kind of person doesn’t exist. Thank You ArlineHunter

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. How my mind wanders from one subject to another… | The adopted ones blog
  2. Stuck and Slavery | The Life Of Von
  3. “Stuck” and Slavery, living #adoption | lara (author-blogger)
  4. Statement on the Documentary “Stuck” | lara (author-blogger)

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