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 imdb.com. Not too bad for an opening weekend.
Even before its release, I heard a lot of buzz about the film, so I 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 the 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, I'm not a fan 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 I'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. I 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.
My 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.
This entry was first published on my adoption blog: The Atchison Adoption Story.