Apparently My Adopted Kids Are Going To Kill You. Sorry!

In the various blogs and forums where adoptive families congregate, there's been an uproar about the upcoming Warner Brothers movie Orphan. You may have seen the trailer if you've been to the movies in the last few weeks; if not, you can see a revised version (more on that later) through the link above. Orphan appears to be a run-of-the-mill psychological horror movie built around the classic changeling/bad seed myth kernel, in this case featuring a nice quiet family adopting a cute little girl who turns out to be an evil psychopath with some sort of mysterious and no doubt horrifying past.

This is nothing new. The Omen series plays on the same mythic structure. The evil adopted child/stepchild/foundling is a concept as old as the evil stepmother and just as common in folklore.

So why the uproar? Well, a few reasons. First, in fairness to Warner Brothers, the adoption community is somewhat sensitive (some would say oversensitive) to slights to begin with. Why? Well, it's because some of you are such relentlessly insensitive and ignorant assholes who don't think before flapping your big fat mouths in front of our kids. No offense.

But second, in fairness to the adoptive parents, Orphan has been marketed in a way to play up the adopting-a-kid-is-a-scary-risk angle. The trailer dwells on the spooky orphanage and scenes within it, and emphasizes that the adopted child is alien and out of place in her new family. Of course, adoptive parents get that a lot. "Aren't you afraid you'll get a child with . . . problems? "Isn't there a risk of emotional issues?" "Aren't you worried about getting a drug-addicted baby?" Etc. Etc. Etc. (As if pushing a kid out of your vagina was insurance that the kid would grow up to be a well-adjusted brain surgeon. Ask Lionel Dahmer about that one, kids.)
The original trailer also featured a line from the titular character: "It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own." There's a line that sets our teeth on edge, and that we also hear all too often. The inclusion of that line made it seem as if Warner's marketers were trying to demonize adoptive kids.

The adoptive community reacted in bad ways and good ways. I'm sorry to say there were calls to censor the movie — to prevent it, somehow, from being released. The fact that there was no chance of that happening does not diminish the fact that such calls for censorship are un-American and regrettable. There were also calls to exercise return speech in the marketplace of ideas — to tell Warner that they were being assholes and offending a small but extremely noisy segment of their ticket-buying audience. That approach was effectiveWarner acknowledged that its marketing of the movie was sort of douchey (my words, not theirs), removed the "it must be hard to love an adoptive child" line from the trailer, and apologized. They also commented that in a world in which they get death threats for moving the date of the next Harry Potter movie, the adoption community was unusually polite in their feedback. That's nice to know.

My kids will be bombarded with cultural messages marking them as other, different, even inferior because they are adopted. Orphan adds but one small voice to that din. I'd like them to take two messages away from this affair. The first is that they are in control of their own destinies and, by taking initiative and telling people like Warner that they are being assholes, can educate and change minds. The second is that while their feelings are valid and their own, they ought not interpret every use of an anti-adoption trope as a personal assault, any more than a stepmother should get upset at every Cinderella sequel. Sometimes a mythic-theme-driven horror movie is just a horror movie.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. U.S. Government says

    “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get a child with . . . problems?

    Man, I hate that shit. I have interest in breeding, but would adopt. People are always saying that. I generally ask those people, "Why do you think you're so superior such that your baby will be fine?" If the person is in her 30s, then I really let loose with statistics on birth defects that occur after 30. Breeding is rolling the genetic dice. People don't like to think about that. I make them.

  2. says

    "Well, it’s because some of you are such relentlessly insensitive and ignorant assholes who don’t think before flapping your big fat mouths in front of our kids. No offense."

    Oh I sure would like to use that line on one of the people who ask "are they brothers?" 'I mean REAL brothers?" Can I borrow it?

  3. says

    That line made me laugh inwardly. Not for what the intent was, but how it would inevitably set the entire adoptive community on edge and receive backlash for ONE line.

    OK, so adopted children should probably not hear such a line. I admit, for those who have vivid memories of the orphanage and COULD recall how it felt to be "orphaned" and then finally welcomed into a family, hearing that line would not be the best idea.

    But adoptive parents? Freaking out over it?

    Just don't take your children to see it.

  4. lpont says

    Cheryl, when I get the are they real brothers question…….I always tell em that ? "biology is so over rated. Is your husband a brother or a cousin?"

  5. Mara 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 they chose to be angry about this movie line but are perfectly content that their adopted child’s birth certificate was permanently sealed from him/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. Adopting parents get to have their names placed on the amended certificates as the birth parents! What lies!!!! These violations of a child’s rights does not concern the protestors because it works for them! It’s not their ethnicities, their heritages that are sealed. No, their newly purchased child will be forced to accept these lies are his/her truth. These self-righteous idiots own the copyrights to their adopted child's identity and could care less that it's FICTION that on the child's birth certificate. It’s downright 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.

  6. says

    Here's the thing, Marta. People are capable of being interested in, or concerned about, more than one thing. The mere fact that people are not discussing the thing you want to be talking about, at the moment you want them to be talking about it, does not make them pathetic. In fact, it doesn't even mean that they are necessarily unsympathetic to your view, or that they even disagree with you. It just means that the moment you are choosing to pitch your fit, they happen to be talking about something else.

    I suspect you are the same person who posted a similar rant on another blog discussing this movie — by an adoptive mother who had, in fact, posted sympathetically to adoptee rights issues, including the particular issue you bring up. I'll ask that blogger about doing an IP match and see. In behaving like you are — which is like someone who descends upon people at the water cooler and shrieks "HOW CAN YOU BE TALKING ABOUT WHATEVER YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT WHEN THERE ARE CHILDREN SUFFERING IN THE SUDAN!!!!" — you are not acting like an effective advocate for adoptee rights. You are acting like a flaming narcissist.

    You have no idea what my position is on adoptee birth certificates. You have no idea of the position of any other person who commented on this thread. You have no idea of the position of the vast majority who have discussed this movie. You have only your firm belief that the issue you are interested in is the only issue anyone should talk about, and your rank prejudice about adoptive parents.

  7. says

    No. The petition suffers from the same narcissism and prejudice as your post.

    Apologies for the typo in your name.

  8. says

    You don't view yourself as being prejudiced against adoptive parents?


    2 a (1): preconceived judgment or opinion (2): an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b: an instance of such judgment or opinion c: an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

    By the way, I don't generalize about adult adoptees at all, let alone based on your behavior. Adult adoptees come in myriad types with diverse views based upon life experiences. As I've argued before, adult adoptees are under no obligation to make adoptive parents to feel good about themselves by withholding criticisms about adoption in general or their upbringing in particular. Let 'er rip. However, nor are adoptive parents — or anyone else — obligated to refrain from telling someone they are full of shit, just because that person is an adult adoptee. That would be condescending. So when you make wide, wild, and overtly hostile generalizations about diverse groups of people in support of your particular agenda, damn straight I'll call you prejudiced, because that's what the word means.

  9. Ansley says

    Ding. Ding. Ding. Folks, we have a winner.

    Mara, my question is 'what about the children who are abandoned'? What should their BCs say? Nothing?

  10. Mara says

    Ding, Ding, Ding, Ansley.

    It's so sad when children are abandoned. There are new baby dumps opening every day where people can just dump children off. It's so sad. Their birth certificate, if not issued before the abandonment, should be truthful and say: Father "Unknown" Mother "Unknown". That's the TRUTH.

    If the child is adopted, he/she should then get a certificate of adoption. It's done every day in England and in other more socially progressive countries.

    Everyone should have the write to know their identities and have possession of their true birth certificates. It's so sad that this is openly discouraged and outlawed in the "land of the free". It's the land of the free, if you're not an adopted person. If you're an adopted person, you are treated as chattle, as if your adoptive parents own the copyright to your identity. This is discrimination. Where are the adoptive parents that are outraged at this discrimination? Nowhere.

    Adoptees are not blank flesh canvasses on which to paint identities onto.

  11. JFR says

    I agree with the stepmother analogy. There will always be these stereotypes/archetypes. How we address them is the important thing.

    Both I and my brother have had the discussion with his girls (they are his biological children) about us being adopted when they have asked questions. It's not a secret or a mystery.

    The most annoying question I have ever heard was, "Don't you want to find your real parents?" Luckily, I was not a child when I got asked this question.

  12. says

    Ohkay this is just weird…its so weird, i didn't even read it…..i read the title and i scrolled down and saw something about an oman..that was enough for me.

    12 years old, Cincinnati, OH

  13. says

    Adoptees are pissed off that Adoptive parents are upset about this movie because of that *one* line
    Its Pathetic isnt it !
    They should Try being an adoptee and always potrayed as a psycho in a movie or drama series or any TV Show!! My answer to it is here

    No matter how much you try and shelter your adopted child they are going to get the stereotypical questions just as I did that are still etched in my primary school memories like:

    Why did your mum give you away
    Are you going to find your real parents
    Were you in a orphanage

    And the list goes on .

    There is no doubt about it according to all the sterotypical literature , movies , series and so on out there that Adopted Children are Psycho and Step Mothers are Evil horrendous witches

    Lucky me I'm both a psycho and a evil horrendous witch LOL how did I get to be sooooo Lucky!!

  14. says

    Adoptees are pissed off that Adoptive parents are upset about this movie because of that *one* line

    No. They aren't. Find me a quote that a fair-minded person could read to demonstrate that. The quote is merely one obnoxious element of a movie that relies on tropes about adoptees. And despite the selfish motives you project upon them, adoptive parents don't like the line not because it suggests that there is something wrong with adoptive parents, but because it suggests there is something wrong with adoptees.

    You would like to have your views considered without being belittled, I assume. But why should any adoptive parent engage you in conversation if you won't have a good faith conversation — if you won't refrain from treating them as one stereotyped, undifferentiated mass?

    Adoptive parents should be concerned that their kids will get peppered with the obnoxious questions you list. Adoptive parents ought to make an effort to prepare their kids for that and to talk it out with them when they endure it. But when adoptive parents express concern with a cultural expression of the "psycho adoptive kid" trope, you ridicule them, belittle them, make their concerns into a strawman, and assume that they must all think alike and must not have any other concern whatsoever about adoption issues. How is that acting in good faith?

  15. nicolette says

    I think Mara has a good point. And its not off-topic 'children in the Sudan' off topic. Had a friend adopt a 2 y/o from China. Took away her name. Currently taking away her language. That bothers me a on a deep level. The movie though is sooo over the top with psychonut Esther, I don't think adopted kids have too much to worry about vis-a-vis people thinking they're claw-hammer psychonuts because of it. Its just another roll-your-eyes typical 'outrage' in our PC society where the word 'retarded' provoked pickets and outrage at Tropic Thunder" and albinos were upset over Da Vinci Code. Too much 'crying wolf'.

  16. K. says

    "pushing a kid out of your vagina"

    It's always people who adopt who want to make giving birth sound ugly and stupid when it's powerful and amazing.

    I feel sorry for you.

  17. says

    K, a person with a reasonable reading comprehension will see immediate that comment is meant to contrast with people who treat adoption as mysterious and dirty, not to rag on childbirth in the abstract. I'm a staunch fan of both childbirth and vaginas.