Outrage Over “Orphan”: Adoptees Are Second-Class Citizens

Think we’re making progress in our society toward equality for adoptees? Think again. As this article from the Tribune explains, the tagline for the new Warner Brothers movie “Orphan” is:

“It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own.”

Oh. MY.

If you think that’s bad enough, take a close look at the media coverage of the outrage. ABC News ticked me off more than the tagline itself with their headline: “‘Orphan’ Horror Film Outrages Adoptive Parents.” As if there are no adult adoptees who might find it a wee bit offensive as well!

Scott Rowe, senior vice president of communications for Warner Brothers, admitted the company, “messed up” in promotions for the film, which is due out in July.

Warner Brothers was besieged with complaints from parents and organizations that deal with adoption, foster care and orphans [emphasis mine] who were troubled by the story line of a deranged and homicidal child.

Speaking out in blogs, listserves and in phone calls and letters to the movie executives, adoptive parents say [emphasis mine] the trailer is especially offensive.

“They were right,” Rowe told ABCNews.com. “Their complaints resonated with us.”

Rowe said the company is moving “as quick as possible” to remove the offending line from the film’s marketing materials.

So it’s offensive to adoptive parents and adoption professionals, but where are the adoptee opinions? Nowhere. We don’t exist, not as adults. Because it’s far easier to disregard our opinions on adoption, a subject upon which we are unacknowledged experts, when people pretend we don’t grow up. Like Lost Boys in Neverland, we are supposed to remain invisible to the outside world. Meanwhile there is no shortage of people willing to speak for us, as if we are incapable of voicing our own opinions.

Adult adoptees have the same problem as adopters of explaining this grossly discriminatory tagline to our kids, who may worry that maybe they, too, are “bad seeds” because they descend from our tainted adopted blood. We have to put up with the knowing looks and snide remarks from friends and associates who are aware of our adopted status. Those of us with sealed records are expected to Pay To Play in vain attempts to regain that which every other citizen of the U.S. takes for granted: our original birth certificates. Adoptee rights are lightyears behind those of minorities, gays, and others who have had some success achieving the respect they deserve as equal members of our society.

Thanks, Hollywood, for making our point in such a blatant manner. Adoptees are second-class citizens. Why don’t you just brand us with B-for-Bastard on our foreheads like the old days and be done with it? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll slink back to my dank adoptee cave with the rest of the grues.


  1. Some of the wisecracks that I have heard are along the lines that maybe this movie will stop many unnessary adoptions in this country. It will make adopters think about what they are doing.

    Me personally, I can not stand another negative view of an adoptee. I am sick and tired of being looked at by society as some kind of demon

  2. Amy–I don’t think it will make the adopters think about what they are doing at all, except make them insist upon more and more conditions to “guarantee” that the kids they adopt acquiesce to their every whim, like items ordered from a catalog. Heaven forbid those little brats come with their own thoughts or feelings, better “therapy” it out of them or they might turn on you like a bad horror movie.

    I’m with you, I’m tired of being seen by society as a monster simply because I’m adopted, something I had absolutely no way to control. So nice to have to deal with all the repercussions of being severed from my blood family, plus society’s assumptions that I must be a murderous psychopath because of my bad bastard blood. It’s “The Omen” all over again, a movie that came out when I was young and told me in no uncertain terms what the rest of the world thinks of adoptees.

  3. I can’t imagine how the persons who developed this idea to promote the movie don’t realize how insensitive that statement was. These people wouldn’t ask how anyone could love a “black” child like their own.

    In fact, I’m sure these folks would think it ludicrous to issue a blanket condemnation to all Rottweilers or Pit Bulls, even!

    Maybe we’ll get further by jumping on them for political incorrectness than by asking them to recognize that we are humans and equal in all respects, even if the law doesn’t recognize it yet.

  4. Unfortunate and wrong as it is, the fact remains that adoptive parents have the voices others are actually willing to listen to.

    I first heard about this movie a little over a month ago through an adoptees blog but it has just been recently that this topic continues to pop up as adoptive moms are now standing up and speaking out about it.

    It is sad because it is, first and foremost, adoptees who live their lives with these kind of stereotypes and yet they seem to get patted on the head and sent on their way when they speak out about such things.

  5. As a Korean adoptee I find that incredibly offensive. It makes me so angry.

    However your post is really good and I agree with everything you said. I couldn’t have said it better, myself.

  6. Adoptees are not financially invested in the adoption industry, so of course they don’t count.

    Never, ever forget – it’s ALL about the money.

    I would not be surprised if the next “advance” in adoptions includes annual psychiatric work-ups which would include ensuring the product is living up to the consumer’s expectations.

    [grrr…. sorry but this story just makes my cynicism rear it’s ugly – but accurate – head.]

    I love everybody’s comments, btw. They are as interesting and on-target as the original post. Great post, Triona.

  7. I am saddened but not surprised. Our culture worships profit, and we adoptees are a good source of income for so many! Why not exploit us in yet another way – isn’t that what Hollywood does best? The objections from adoptive parents don’t move me to tears; if they didn’t realize grafting a family comes with problems, shame on them for falling for the “Forever Family” marketing BS.

    Fact is, adoptees are overrepresented in therapy, institutions, juvenile violations, teen pregnancies, ADHD diagnoses, and a plethora of indicators of social frictions. Hellya, blame us for not being the sweet smiling babies we were sold as…

    As for The Locator, I have to class him as just another CI who has found how to make big bucks from exploiting secrecy.

  8. I’m sure they did realize how that tagline would sound. They phrased it that way to play on people’s fears of adoptees, since they are after all trying to sell a horror movie. Someone on another forum said if they’d called it “Black Girl” or “Hispanic Girl” instead of “Orphan,” they’d be vilified. But adoptees? We’re fair game.

    It’s absolutely all about the money, whether it’s charging us for our own records or reaping profits from a horror film. And it’s also about continuing to render us a subclass of human beings, because it’s so much easier to discriminate against and make money off of the subclasses. If we don’t exist, there’s nothing to complain about.

    And as usual, the adopters think it’s all about them. I bet most of them THINK they are complaining on behalf of their adopted minor children, when deep down their real concern is how adopting those children reflects on them, their families, and their social status. If you want to turn a source of shame into a source of pride, then all adult adoptees must be treated the same as the non-adopted. You can’t just boycott one movie but let discrimination against adoptees continue. But because adoption equals ownership in our society, some adoptive parents actually fight AGAINST open records! Which only goes to prove how selfish the intentions behind adoption can be.

    I wouldn’t be surprised either if, as LisaKay suggests, they start forcing adoptees to go through annual therapy as part of the adoption process, to ensure the quality of us as consumer products. After all if it doesn’t work we can always be dumped in Nebraska, The Adoptee Returns Department! (Oops, sorry, mispronounced “safe haven”.)

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  10. Improper–Actually, I agree with you. Apparently in context the tagline is the adopted girl (e.g. the homicidal maniac) saying this to her adoptive parents. I could easily picture myself as a teen saying that to mine. Somehow adoption gets some adopters in the mindset that they can pick and choose us as if we are items in a catalog, as opposed to real human beings with our own unique personalities. I, too, vehemently disagree with being portrayed as some kind of raging psychopath just because I happen to be adopted. And yes, I think we should be included in all anti-discrimination laws.

  11. http://Anonymous says

    I am the mother of 2 daughters (3 and 1) that my husband and I adopted at birth. Our daughters birthmothers are the same age as me (late 30’s) and both already had children that they didn’t place for adoption. We have what’s called a semi-open adoption. We provide letters and pictures every few months to our daughters birthmothers. We have heard from their birthmothers periodically through letters. We also talk to our daughters about their adoption story and show them pictures of their birth families. We keep ourselves eductated on adoption issues and we do our best to be positive advocates for adoption.
    I’m trying to figure out this blog. Is this blog anti-adoption? Other than banning adoption altogether, do you have suggestions for improving adoption, or suggestions for me to be a better mom to my daughters?

  12. Anonymous, thanks for your post. I suppose some people might call this blog anti-adoption. What I am really against is adoption as it is often practiced: the secrecy, the lies that separate families, the sealing of adult adoptee records. However I appreciate any adoptive parent who, like yourself, is willing to listen and keep an open mind.

    In my viewpoint, the best thing you can do for your kids is be there for them, without judging how adoption makes them feel. That will have to be up to them, to determine adoption’s impact on their lives and what they want to do about it. Above all, honesty is KEY. Please, please tell them the truth to the best of your ability. You are making a good start by continuing to educate yourself. Be open to their questions and let them know, without pressure, that you are happy to answer. If they choose to search, help them do so. Your support will only strengthen your relationship. The danger lies in the lies, when adoptive parents can’t face the reality that building a family through adoption is different than doing so biologically. Not better or worse, just different.

    As for improving adoption itself, I believe it needs to be an utterly transparent process. I also think the agencies should butt out and let families deal with things in their own ways. It’s fine to seek help but too many of those “professionals” try to lord it over us and control the situation (usually for a profit). Don’t fall into that trap, or assume they know what they’re talking about. Typically they’re not adopted, nor have surrendered children to adoption. And while many of them are adoptive parents themselves, that does not give one an automatic perspective into what it’s like living on the other side.

    Thanks again for writing. I hope you will stick around and see beyond the occasional (okay, more than occasional!) ranting to the truths I’m trying to get at, about how adoption makes me feel and how it has impacted my life.

  13. Anonymous: I would like to commend you for being curious and willing to learn more about the various perspectives and points of view re: adoption.

    I highly recommend the documents linked below. They were found on the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    Lifelong Impact of Adoption on Adoptees, Adoptive Parents, and Birth Parents:

    Resources to inform and help adoptive families talk about adoption with their children, understand typical school and sibling issues related to adoption, and anticipate the impact of adoption during different stages in their child’s development.http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/postadoption/families/parenting.cfm

    As for whether I think adoption should be banned – occasionally I do think that, in spite of the fact that I was adopted by a wonderful, loving couple. But I was adopted during the bad ol’ days of completely closed adoptions and black- and gray-market adoption agencies.

    I cannot answer on Triona’s behalf, but IMO this blog is more about allowing adult adoptees to know their own family histories.

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  15. LisaKay, thanks for posting those links, they are really useful and I’d forgotten about them.

    Improper, my friend, you always leave me smiling!

  16. A-mom here on a bunch of a-parent lists and the ony people who complained seemed to be a-parents. I sent the notice to two websites run by first mothers and nobody picked it up. Adoptees read these forums and I hoped it would be a way to get it out there too. The a-parent response was vast and well-coordinated. Virtually every list I’m on ran with it.

    Where was the other response???

    Improper, some of us have no wish for our children to be a reminder of anything except themselves. I agree with you about putting your kids first. Their needs–as adopted kids–come first. Whatever I can do, I’ll stand in line to do it. When I first adopted my daughter the idea of searching didn’t even exist. Now it does. It’s an amazing development.

  17. http://Anonymous says

    A lot of adoptive parents are angry about one line in this film: “It must be hard to love an adopted child like your own.”

    How pathetic that these people chose to be angry about this movie line but are perfectly content that their adopted child’s birth certificate was permanently sealed from his/her with their permission! Yes, adoptees have to live their lives carrying around “amended” birth certificates and are NEVER allowed to see their original birth certificates containing their true names and the names of his/her true biological parents. These adopted parents get their names placed on the amended certificates as the birth parents! What lies!!!! These adoptive parents have no concern about this because it suits them. It’s not their ethnicity, their heritage sealed from them. No, their newly purchased child will be forced to accept these lies are their truths. It’s disgraceful and pathetic what people choose to protest.

    I’m an adoptee. A lot of my friends are adoptees. We want “Orphan” t-shirts to wear proudly because getting angry over one-liners and not giving a hoot about our civil rights is laughable.

  18. I have no problem with this movie, but wait, why am I not heard? OH YEA. I’M AN ADOPTEE. Adoption is so twisted. It’s about the adoptive parents who tell their akids what/how to think about adoption and SPEAK FOR their akid as if they know what their akid really thinks, and it’s about the adoption professionals who claim to know the most about adoption. Once again, aparents and adoption professionals have a voice and are heard, while the adoptees who KNOW the most about adoption and who I THOUGHT adoption was all about, have no voice.