3798On Screen & On Scene: 'Somewhere Between'
- Aug 10, 2012On Screen & On Scene: 'Somewhere Between'
Submitted by Ken Choy on August 10, 2012 - 11:40am
Crying at the start of a movie is usually a sign that you’re in for a
powerful experience. The documentary Somewhere Between sends the
viewer into a myriad of emotions as it tracks the lives of four
adopted teenagers, some abandoned in China and now living in the
United States. Half of all Chinese adoptees are in the U.S. Most are
females, some left on the streets as a result of China’s One Child
Policy, which began in 1981.
The film is also a personal story for the producer/director Linda
Goldstein Knowlton. At the beginning of the film, she briefly shows us
her adoption of a Chinese baby. Packed with love, it’s a moving
experience. But as Knowlton examines over the course of the film, the
adoptions carry complex issues that affect the adoptees throughout
Common are issues of identity. Haley, raised in Tennessee in a
devoutly Christian household, competes in beauty pageants and emulates
her older blonde sister. Her goal is to be the first Chinese American
person to play the Opry. She occasionally refers to herself as a
'banana' or 'twinkie'. Her surroundings don’t give her much
opportunity to realize that the APIA community generally considers
this comparison to be derogatory.
In Berkeley, Fang’s Caucasian mother taught herself Chinese in a year
in preparation for her daughter’s adoption. Fluent in Mandarin, Fang
herself travels to China frequently. The film documents her struggles
with identity while she assists in the adoption of a Chinese girl with
cerebral palsy. Intelligent and perceptive, Fang realizes that her
psychology plays into her determination get the girl adopted. As an
abandoned baby, she has a quest to prove her worth.
Type A and extremely driven, Jenna is also conscious of her need to
succeed. Having competed in the US Figure Skating National
Championships, Jenna calls her schooling “a career" and treats her
extracurricular activities -- such as being a coxswain for a rowing
team -- similarly. During a conference with adoptive parents, she
breaks down when asked about being abandoned, admitting an undeniable
desire to prove her worth.
Many adoptees still seek their biological parents. Ann vacillates
between being happy just having her adopted parents in her life and
longing to search for her biological parents. The search is virtually
impossible since some were left on the streets, and it’s a yearning
that is bound to be unfulfilled (although one of the four girls is
successful in finding her birth parents).
“Abandoned” is a key term used in Somewhere Between, and although
several of the film’s subjects were left out on the streets, the
film’s focus does not necessarily lead the audience to conclude that
they have been “saved” by their adoptive parents. And though it delves
into the social and psychological effects of being adopted, the
documentary doesn’t explore the more extreme examples. For instance,
in Minnesota -- where there is a large Korean adoptee community -- the
suicide rate is also high, according to a University of Minnesota 2002
study. Likewise, Sweden has experienced higher suicide rates among
intercountry adoptees. In fact there are some in the adoption
community who advocate a ban on intercountry adoption. The omission of
these aspects may lead one to think mostly glossy, warm-fuzzy images
were presented, leaving a tinge of doubt about the overall intent of
the film. While the lives of the film’s subjects have not been touched
by more extreme situations, it would have benefitted the film to not
ignore these either.
Somewhere Between does succeed in engrossing the viewer in the lives
and sometimes tumultuous inner worlds of these girls, and may serve as
a primer for mainstream audiences on adoption. While examining the
multiple challenges they contend with, the film’s dominant message is
love, belonging, and hope. And for these girls, who struggle daily
with the intimate impacts of government policy and transracial
adoption, that’s something they deserve.
Somewhere Between opens August 24 in New York and September 14 in LA.
For a different perspective, check out Adopted -- a film by Barb Lee,
a Korean adoptee raised in North Carolina.