Monday, July 27, 2009

"I'm not your *bleeping* Mommy!"

This past Friday, the new horror film Orphan was released across the country and three days later, is number four at the box office, with a rating of nearly 7 out of 10 on Not too bad for an opening weekend.

Even before its release, we heard a lot of buzz about the film, so we finally looked into it. The premise of the film involves a married couple named John and Kate (such original names!) who suffer a stillbirth and as a result, their marriage takes a hit. To get things back on track, they decide to adopt a nine-year-old girl named Esther from a local orphanage. Once they bring Esther home to be their daughter, a bunch of unexpected things begin to happen -- namely, she starts killing people (big surprise!). From here on out, Esther naturally poses a threat to John, Kate, and their two biological children. As a result, she is no longer seen as their daughter and member of the family, but as an outsider...a curse...something to be contended with and, if necessary, exterminated.

The initial promotional ads for the film contained this tagline:
"It must be difficult to love an adopted child as much as your own."

Wait....WHAT?!?!?! Are you freaking KIDDING ME?!?!?!

Think about this for a second; would you EVER expect our culture to stand for the following movie promo taglines?:

"It must be difficult to love a retarded child as much as a normal one."

"It must be difficult to love a gay child as much as your straight ones."

"It must be difficult to love a black child as much as your white ones."

No, you would never see those, nor should you. Such taglines would be hideous and deplorable and would surely sink a film before its release. But the reason for Orphan's tagline is simple: it's perfectly acceptable in our society to attach stigmas and false stereotypes to adopted children and to specify the fact that they are adopted as much as possible, especially when they go through even the most normal of developmental issues. Thankfully, due to very necessary outcry from the adoption community, the film's sick tagline has since been removed and changed to run two interchangable taglines of "I don't think Mommy likes me very much" and "There's something wrong with Esther."

To be honest, we're not fans of those two new taglines either, nor the entire premise of the film for that matter. The general theme seems to be that adoption is something to be feared, especially if you choose to adopt an older child because the bottom line is they're not your real family. This stranger-brought-into-the-family scenario doesn't contain much logic however. While we've personally seen a lot of people make some seriously horrible choices with their lives -- people who've been raised by their biological parents no less -- those people were never treated as non-family members or had their rightful titles of "son" or "daughter" stripped from them.

Without giving away too much of Orphan's final plot twist, the scene at the end of the film between Kate and Esther climaxes with Kate screaming "I'm not your f---ing Mommy!!!" -- a proverbial nail in the coffin, so to speak, in which it is made absolutely and unequivocally clear to the film's viewers that when things get really bad with your adopted child, it's in the parents' best interest to completely divorce the parent/child relationship, because hey, they're not really "your" kid anyway! They're just orphans.

What's the point of writing this? Some have said it's just a movie, no big deal. We disagree. People are constantly going into filmmaking because they want to get some sort of cultural message out. Movies have the capacity to bring issues and concepts to light in both positive and negative ways. Often times movies put spoken words and pictures to what our culture is really thinking but maybe doesn't want to say out loud because it's just not PC. On top of that, movies tend to influence our culture in profound ways towards even the most basic aspects of life. Tons of people were afraid of showering after the release of Psycho. People didn't want dolls in their houses after seeing the Child's Play movies. The presence of dogs instills panic for some because of the film, Cujo. And I personally know people who are terrified of clowns because of the film, It. It's not out of the realm of possibility for Orphan to have the same effect on people who might be thinking about adopting a child, yet choose not to out of fear of bringing home another Esther. And what about the people who might not be interested in adopting, but start to look a little differently at the adopted kid down the street? How about all of the adopted kids in school right now who are going to have to listen to the taunts and labels thrown at them as a result of this film? All of this might sound far fetched, but the next time someone tells you they don't stereotype, just ask them what movies they watch.

Our point is not to say you shouldn't see Orphan, but to think about and even speak out against the overall context and the utter falsehoods contained within the premise of this film. At a time when our society should continuously be promoting the beauty and necessity of growing families through adoption, this film appears to remind viewers that adoption is nothing but a risky, second best option.

If you're interested, please check out Orphans Deserve Better - a grassroots initiative launched after the release of this film, that works to take the side of children who don't have the power to speak for themselves.


  1. Wow... you're right. This movie IS ridiculous & horrible! What's adoption got to do with it anyway? You might end up with a psycho killer BIOLOGICALLY too, for that matter! BOO to the film industry for even THINKING of something this awful.

  2. They are only pandering to a common (but wrong) belief. Kids are affraid of clowns from time to time with or with out "It." Dogs frighten people who have no idea of the movie "CuJo." The movie "Orphan"is capitalizing on the common fear in the adoption process. On a much more trivial level people have the same fear about adopted dogs. That fear is foolish because there is a ton of lovable dogs in shelters, that doesnt mean there isn't the occasional story of a bad dog. How much of the "bad" in a dog was a product of a lack of love in its life? I wouldn't be mad at the movie for many reasons, the least of which being that it is a movie that is premiering against Harry Potter and no one will watch it. Secondly it looks AWFUL. You are taking steps to rectify the problem not that the movie causes but rather what our society raises. On a side note it sounds like you have a problem with Stephen King movies :)

  3. Dan, I agree that people can be afraid of those things with or without those movies. But movies do play a sizable role in driving those fears deeper, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it as a society. Likewise, the fear of adoption isn't being caused by this movie, but it sure isn't going to help quell peoples' (sometimes completely irrational) fears on the subject unless people are willing to openly discuss it. Nor is it going to do any good for children who are adopted and in school who will undoubtedly be linked to this crazy Esther character. I'm not hating on the film itself, nor am I hoping it just gets overshadowed by Harry Potter. Orphan is actually doing well at the box office. I think a lot of good can actually be produced by a lot of people seeing this movie and then actually talking about the nature of adoption afterwards. No, I honestly have no issue with Stephen King and I throughly enjoyed all those movies that I pointed out in the blog.

  4. First of all, I really like horror films/stories. I am not much of a thrill seeker in terms of roller coasters, bungee jumping etc...but I do like a good thriller. I think there is a common theme in horror films that revolve around children.

    Horror films will take a common assumption and invert it in order to disorient, surprise, and shock the viewer. This is the case with children in horror films. Children are commonly associated with innocence and joy; but, horror films will invert that association in order to disorient its viewers. Think about films where a baby or child is discovered to be the anti-Christ; "Rosemary's Baby"; "The Omen". Consider films where children are victims of possession: "The Exorcist", "Audrey Rose". Think of films where children commit acts of vengeance and violence: "Children of the Corn", "The Bad Seed", "The Good Son". There are other films where the suspense is caused by children being placed in the way of spiritual or physical harm: "Poltergeist", "Nightmare on Elm Street", "The Shining" . In all these examples a common symbol or assumption is being inverted in order to make the viewer uncomfortable. In all these films, a child's innocence is being threatened; or the child, who is supposed to represent innocence, defies our expectations by turning out to be a sinister force. Horror film makers include such elements because they twist people's expectations, and shock the viewers. The inversion of innocence has not only been done with children in horror films. Films like, "Blue Velvet", "The Stepford Wives”, "The People Under The Stairs", have inverted the symbol of middle class/rich suburbia as a safe haven by exposing a hidden darkness or evil in such a community. Such an inversion is also done with institutions associated with feelings of trust and safety, like the family or the church.

    After the film is over, most of us enjoy the momentary lapse of reality; we appreciate the thrills the film gave us; then we return to reality. I have worked with little kids for many years, and watching horror films involving children never changed my perception of them. Watching “The Children of the Corn", or "The Omen" never made me paranoid about my students. To assume that people fear children, and consider them evil, because of these films, is to believe that the majority of our population is infantile. If I seriously believed that every child I met, after watching "The Omen", was the anti-Christ, then I should be committed. If people refuse to adopt just because they saw the movie, "The Orphan", I would question whether those people would be qualified to be parents anyway. If a person can't differentiate between a fantasy story and reality, then how would that person be qualified to take care of a child?
    Watching a horror film would not impact any choice I would make about having children or adopting children. The major battle surrounding "The Orphan" is a battle of political correctness. If a person is very sensitive about issues of political correctness then they shouldn't watch horror films, and they should not read fairy tales either.

    All throughout my childhood I read fairy tales. Based on the logic presented in the complaints towards "The Orphan", I should have a severe prejudice against foster parents because of this exposure. "Cinderella", "Snow White", and countless other fairy tales portray Stepmothers and fathers with evil intentions. But, I can safely say that I hold no unrealistic fears or prejudices towards any stepparents. If a person is in their right mind, watching "The Orphan" is not going to cause any prejudice or fear about adopting a child. I appreciate your concerns about the issue of adoption, and I realize it is a very personal issue for both you and Tara. But, I am just wondering if all the anxiety about this film, and its influence on the cause of adoption, could possibly be something that is being blown out of proportion? I can be sensitive about some issues of political correctness as well, but I think it can also be overdone.

  5. Hi Matt, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Make no mistake, I too am a fan of horror films. Here's the issue for us with regards to's not one of mere political correctness by any means, though yes, I admit we were pissed off when we read the film's original tagline (which is just a horrible thing to say anywhere at any time for any reason). The issue is regarding an already accepted societal perception that adoption is second best and that adopted kids are more prone to being screwed up, which is just a bogus claim. You see it in our media everywhere. (So and so became a murderer...Oh yeah? Well I heard he was adopted!) Adoption has somehow gained a negative cause and effect reputation. If someone does something horrific, and they happen to be adopted, their adoption is the first thing that's pointed out. People act as though adopted kids are "unwanted" or so bad that no one wants them, so the kids turn to a life of violence. I would argue these circumstances are the exception, not the norm, though our society's perception indicates the opposite. This is the big difference between the premise of Orphan and the premise surrounding all those other horror films with children at the center. There weren't any already pre-existing cultural notions about the plotlines of those movies in the way there is about Orphan's. I don't think we're blowing it out of proportion...more like bringing light to the subject. We have no plans to stand outside of movie theaters and protest or anything. Like I said above, I hope a lot of people see the movie and enjoy it for its entertainment value, but at the same time, speak out against the inconsistencies. Being adoptive parents-to-be, we are certainly a minority, so I can see why it sounds like we're making more out of it than it should be. But really, that's sort of why we need to speak out all the more in these types of situations. Hope you're doing well, peace!

  6. "I'm not your ******** mommy" was also uttered by Naomi Watts in one of the Ring remakes. So this movie also suffers from LACK OF ORIGINALITY! Tsk tsk tsk.


  7. I think what you have pointed out is interesting, because I honestly do not think I have encountered a lot of those assumptions about adoption that you have mentioned. So, I must be in the dark on the issue. I have known people who were adopted, and I can honestly say that I have never heard people imply that because a particular child was adopted that they must be evil, or violent, or capable of murder. So, I guess what you are saying is kind of news to me. Some of the people I knew who were adopted did have some issues controlling their behaviors, but I never assumed that it had anything to do with them being adopted. One person I went to school with, who happened to be adopted, had some anger issues. One day he came into school with his hand all bandaged up, and I asked him what happened. He told me that he got really angry and punched a hole in his bedroom wall. But still, I never assumed, or heard anyone assume that they were evil or possible murderers. I just always thought that all people have issues and problems whether you were adopted or not. I know that some children in foster care and in the adoption system, can have some challenging behaviors. I have a friend who worked at a children's home and sometimes she would talk about the challenges and how she delt with them. She would tell me stories of frustrated children running away from the center, and how she would follow them and try to talk to them, and calm them down, as they were walking up the road. But her and I would never talk about the kids being evil. That type of thought never entered my mind. Maybe the fact that I have never heard people make this assumption has something to do with growing up with a Mom who was an educator, and later going into the education field myself. I think many educators are more likely to view troublesome behaviors as the result of unmet needs, rather than evil or inherent badness. I suppose the other part of it is that I know that I have some difficult issues, and I wasn't adopted. You don't have to be adopted to encounter conditioning and circumstances that are damaging. I think most people have some issues whether or not they were adopted. I know that I also sympathize with a lot of the students who can exhibit difficult behaviors. I always feel bad when I have heard a group of Mom's saying that they don't want their child to play with this child because of his "bad" reputation. I would laugh if it wasn't so disturbing. Most often the kid they are talking about is only 4 or five years old, and I think to myself, "jeez the kid has barely started his life and already people are not giving him/her a chance." A four or five year old has several years of development and teaching ahead of him to help them learn, and some develop at a slower or faster pace than others. So, I could never understand some of those mean spirited Moms. I have seen teacher's with the same attitude as well, and it is baffling to me. But, I do not remember ever overhearing a parent saying that another child was horrible or evil just because they were adopted. That is a new one to me. Even when I was growing up, all the books I read, that had characters who were adopted or in foster care, always portrayed the adopted children as being misunderstood...not inherently bad or evil; and usually there was a teacher or parent in the book who would open up to the child, and trust them and take care of them, causing the child to grow in a positive manner. So, I guess I am just wondering where people have actually read or heard such sterotypes; other than some of the horror flicks that I've mentioned.

  8. Matt, you hit the nail on the head. There is no correlation between being adopted and being a criminal. So you're absolutely correct in not even thinking of linking anyone's personal problems to their having been adopted.

    Just to clarify, I'm not claiming by ANY means whatsoever that everyone thinks adopted kids are killers. I'm simply saying there's a cultural stigma attached to adopted kids that this movie only enhances, not curbs.

  9. You are so right, Tara! This is horrible! I didn't truly understand why people were getting upset at first. I looked at it as if it were simply a movie, like most people tend to do; however, I remember just recently how my mom told me when Jaws first came out. She told me how terrified she was to get into the ocean. Upon making the connection, I was really saddened that movies like this are made! Thank you for writing about it!!!!!