Posted by: 지인 | 20 February 2008

Enough already of “Through the White Lens” savior stories!

You may have already received or seen this plea for money, issued by a fellow Korean adoptee of all people, making the rounds:

Dear Friends & Members of the Adoptee/Adoption Community,

Since 2005, I have been working with an independent filmmaker, Nora Jacobson, as a researcher & promoter on a film called “The Hanji Box.” As a Korean-American adoptee with an extensive background in Korean orphanage volunteer work, I provided some information about Korean adoption, orphans, and orphanages. The movie is about an American adoptive mother goes to S. Korea to discover her daughter’s birth story. It is the first ever US-Korean co-produced film and stars Amy Irving (Anastasia, Carrie) and Baek Yoon-shik (The President’s Last Bang) as well as Yunjin Kim (ABC’s “Lost”).

The film is in pre-production, and we are currently seeking investments (of at least $10,000) to raise the remaining $1.2 million to necessary to begin production. Filming will begin either this spring or fall. For an early review, see Darcy Paquet’s article in Variety:

Please see the attachment for more information and let me know if you, an organization, or someone you know is interested in this investment opportunity. Please also forward this message on to others who may be interested. I am hoping that you can help connect me with either the Korean-American or adoptee communities who may be interested in supporting this film. We will pay a small finder’s fee for connections you provide that lead to investments in the film.

Thanks for your assistance,

(Name & phone # removed)

I’ll be frank with my reaction:

Yuck. Just don’t do it.

Don’t make this film. Don’t invest in this film.

I am disgusted. This sentence, especially, strikes me as revolting: “The movie is about an American adoptive mother [who] goes to S. Korea to discover her daughter’s birth story.”

Why? Because we as Korean and intercountry adoptees should be — and are — past this stage of social and political infancy, where parents and so-called benevolent strangers and rescue workers should be allowed to intervene and fabricate, color over, and narrate our stories on our behalf.

This is a continuation of the sort of gag-and-bind that fools adoptees into thinking that these stories are about us, or are somehow our own, and dupes other people who don’t know any better into thinking that these are our histories.

Let’s be clear about this: They are not. They are voice-overs and bedtime stories that exoticize and romanticize, and portray white adoptive parents as the selfless saviors of a nation of helpless colored folk and a displaced nation of powerless orphans.

This movie is not about a Korean adoptee or a Korean mother, and will not do the adoptee community any favors. Refer to the above quoted sentence to be reminded: “The movie is about an American adoptive mother [who] goes to S. Korea to discover her daughter’s birth story.”

Don’t feed the fable-makers, people. Fiction or not, these story-weavers still have elected to take on the responsibility of representing what happen to be very real, very personal and very vulnerable life experiences that are ours. Not theirs. Not an adoptive parent’s. Nor anyone else’s.

We are telling our own real stories now. If you really want to hear them, then shut up and listen.



  1. I’m sorry, Ji-In…

    I really don’t understand how this is offensive.

    Wouldn’t it be a good thing for them to film an adoptive mother’s journey to Korea to enable her to understand what it is, precisely, that her daughter’s lost?

    – Mei-Ling

  2. Hi, Mei-Ling ~ My point was that historically, an overwhelming majority of “adoption stories” have been told from adoptive parents’ perspectives, and are passed off as stories about adoptees’ journeys. Rarely are adoptees given the opportunity to tell our own stories and narrate our own histories on a public stage of this magnitude (i.e., this level of cooperation from the Seoul Film Commission and other corporate film production businesses; or, in the case of similarly touted books, trade publishers and large promotional/marketing budgets vs. small/independent publishers and self-publishing, etc.).

    In short, many of us would rather have the chance to explore and explain our own histories than have them written and voiced over for us, so that the stories fashioned & produced for mass consumption are diluted and distorted by being framed through the POV of those who are doing and facilitating the adopting, instead of POVs of those who are living the experience of being adopted.

    Several of my fellow adoptee bloggers and I have lamented this fact, and discussed extensively how the parent-child power relationship is used to reinforce the illusion that adoptees somehow either remain “adopted children” forever (infantilization), or cease to have any post-adoption-related needs after becoming adults. This power relationship also is leveraged to undermine our authority as experts of our own experiences — that is, refuting/glossing over the fact that we as adult adoptees are the experts.

    ~Ji In

  3. I find it ironic how PAPs claim to want to understand *why* we feel such heartache at times, then when we try to explain, their responses are, “What’s the matter with you? You had a good life, didn’t you? So please STFU. You have good parents and a good education and a good home, stop being so ungrateful.”

    But it’s not about that. It’s not about any of that. And when they get confused, and we try to explain, they get all huffed up and offended before we even finish our sentences.

    If they really want to know what it’s like… then why aren’t they listening to us? Why aren’t they really “hearing” us? WE’VE LIVED THROUGH IT.

    But they just don’t want to hear that we have pain. Unresolved grief at realizing what it is that we’ve lost.

    But we also give adoption a “bad” name. I will admit.. it’s probably extremely unsettling for a first mother to hear that her child is sad about the life they didn’t have. After all, wasn’t it a sacrifice on her part? Maybe it wasn’t one that she wanted to do, but it was a necessity at the time to ensure that the child would have been able to grow up alive and healthy, regardless of the circumstances.

    – Mei-ling

    PS. I went to the chat a while ago… and one of the APs could not, for the life of her, figure out why I was sad about the loss of people I “don’t know.” She pretty said what I stated above: you keep talking about the negatives. Weren’t there *any* positive things in your life at ALL?

  4. I’m hoping that this is not a typical “savior story”. I looked around a bit on the net and found a few words about the movie and it sounds like it will be more the amom’s story about her own struggles and her own emotional recovery.

    What’s odd is that you (a TRA) received this solicitation, and not someone like me (amom to TRAs).

  5. I think it sounds God awful. And I don’t care how much they try to spin it as an adoptive mom’s journey, they are still exploiting the adoptee experienceand taking liberties that aren’t theirs to take. We could take bets now on how it’s going to end, with the white adoptive mom and the Korean adoptee reaching for each other, the “real mom” and the “real daughter.” Barfo. I really don’t have any sense of hope for this movie and I hope it doesn’t get past this stage.

  6. Here, here! I heard about this one too and the same sentence sent up a red flag. Great. Another one.

    Ten to one it’ll end up about the adoptive parent more than anything else. Even when we do get to tell our own stories, it’s being sifted and translated through perspectives other than our own.

    I really feel you on this one. As a VN adoptee, I think it’s disgusting how our histories have been interpreted, packaged and sold back to us. All the while we’re suppose to be grateful we’re mentioned at all. And hey, sometimes we’re even allowed to speak.


  7. JK & Sume — Exactly.

    Ick. Here’s an even worse description of this film:

    “Hannah, an American writer, is heartbroken by her adopted daughter’s rejection. Hoping to unravel the mysteries of international adoption she travels to Korea. Her unacknowledged mission — even to herself — is to find her daughter’s birth mother. Instead she meets a Korean painter whose art awakens in her unexpected emotions. As he acquaints her with Korean culture and history, they begin an intense but delicate relationship, fueled by passion, the challenge to communicate, and her secret desire to make her family whole.”

    From Google’s cache

  8. Why am I not surprised? Kind of takes twisted to a whole other level, doesn’t it?

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