Yoli somewhat presciently noted that I was unlikely to want to see Wo Ai Ni Mommy.
And yet I did. What can I say, it is on the internet. I’m much more likely to watch a documentary if I don’t have to change out of my pajamas.
I knew this film was going to be bad, but I refrained from saying so to avoid the grief I get despite the fact that I am always right. For example, I saw this and it was maybe even worse than I predicted or could have imagined. If that is even possible. And I was completely right about this book. It even had those misspelled italicized phrases.
But people are always screaming “How can you criticize something when you haven’t even seen it/read it yet?”
Hey, I can tell it’s a duck before it walks or quacks.
And I knew this film was going to be maddening and infuriating and awful. It was. And in addition it was terribly heartbreaking and sad.
The duck was easy to spot. First, the story is about an eight-year-old who is adopted from China by a white American family. It is her story, but it is not hers to tell. I have a problem with adoptive parents spreading their kids’ lives all over the internet. Because there is no way a child of that age can make an informed choice. Not that anybody ever gave the subject of this documentary a choice.
But she’s treated as if she is truly being given a choice. A choice to embrace an “American” name. A choice to move halfway around the world with strangers.
Her adoptive mother phrases commands as “choices” quite a bit: Say you’re sorry or go to your room!
The little girl notes in one case that she didn’t have a choice. And she never really did.
Let’s look at the naming issue as one example. One of the first things her new adoptive mother wants the orphanage worker to ask the little girl is whether she likes the new name chosen for her. We’ve written extensively about naming before. (Apparently immigrating to the U.S. no longer means a new name. If it ever did.) And I just can’t imagine renaming an eight-year-old.
Adoptive parents often talk about renaming as a choice. They boast about how their children wanted a new “American” name. They talk about how their kids can always go back to using their original names. They keep the original name as a middle name. They claim the kids embraced their new names.
Yeah, if you can say a kid embraces a life preserver when she’s thrown out to sea.
Let’s be perfectly clear here: They aren’t giving the child a choice. First, there is a power differential. But in addition, if they really were going to give the kid a choice, they’d leave the name alone. But the paperwork reveals the parents’ choice: The new name.
How many adoptive parents do you know who kept their child’s name in its original form? I don’t know any. How many kept their personal names? I know just a few.
The orphanage worker in this case doesn’t talk about the name as a choice to the child. She tells the little girl her “new” name and tells her to say “Yes!” when her new mother calls her.
It all seems so accommodating. That would be my criticism of the adoption process in China. It’s about accommodation. Not necessarily about the kids. This is the reason that flocks of prospective adoptive parents are drawn to China. Agencies talk about the streamlined process, the single trip.
But the handover appalled me. Here ya go, kid. Bye. Have a good life. The little girl in this documentary had a teddy bear, some hair clips, a picture album of her new adoptive family and a barbie doll. All of which were shoved into a plastic bag. We learn later that her foster mother gave her many photographs, but she no longer has them on her adoption day.
And her adoptive parent has not been advised to bring a small suitcase or bag for her. Like foster kids in the U.S., all her belongings clutched in a grocery bag.
The parents seemed woefully unprepared, especially given the fact that they were adopting an older child. They did not appear to have learned even rudimentary Chinese phrases. And yet the adoptive mother is unsympathetic when her new daughter balks at language drills, saying it’s “too hard.” In a voiceover, the mother says something like “She’s thinking this is too hard, why don’t you learn Chinese?” Yet it does not seem to have occurred to the adoptive mother that perhaps she might have tried.
(Maybe adoption training could involve dropping adoptive parents in another country with no money or access to telephones and see how that pointing and gesturing strategy works.)
The mom badgers the child to Sit up! and learn her lessons. And this segues into a truly awful segment where the adoptive mother lectures the girl about how she has another Chinese kid at home who speaks English and how the mother loves her. And she asks the little girl if she is ugly because she’s a white person.
The whole time I was thinking Oh fuck no.
Because I tend to believe that as awful as people will be in the presence of others, they will probably behave even worse when nobody is watching or the cameras aren’t rolling. So I wondered just what this little girl was subjected to while she was still in China waiting to leave for the U.S.
Strangely enough, the adoptive mother didn’t seem prepared for the criticism she has received since the film was broadcast. I don’t know what she imagined the response would be. But she obviously never thought too hard about it being negative. And she never thought about opening her child’s life up for public consumption. Yet here it is. If there is an eternity, it is on the internet.
She talks about how she didn’t want to be seen as saving a child. And yet she can be found here and there on the internet, defending, defending, defending. Talking about her child’s medical needs and how much the surgery costs and how she couldn’t get that in China. Like many other adoptive parents, she sees criticism of adoption as a personal attack. The response to this attack typically runs along the lines of what a shitty life the kid would have in China.
That isn’t the answer. The answer is to address how we could do this differently. Any other response implies the child should be grateful. So quit complaining, already, you angry adoptees!
There was a bunch of other crap in here, like when the mother talks about how she doesn’t see the kid as Chinese (she sees her as a “beautiful girl”), a scene of a birthday party with all white friends, a FCC New Year Party (Chinese New Year without Chinese adults!), the kid wanting to go back to China, a creepy thing with the father saying he’s always been “all things China … martial arts,” and a strange little add-on at the end with Dr. Amanda Baden.
PS: But don’t take my word for it. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can watch it over at the PBS site. While you’re there, you might want to watch First Person Plural. Which won’t leave you with the sense of having lost more than an hour of your life, forever. Remember, we watch so you don’t have to™.