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 effective — Warner 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.