Adoption and related life experiences children go through are often portrayed in movies, but sometimes the portrayals can be difficult for children to understand. Adoption is a very complex issue, and it is experienced from so many differing points of view. Although shared by many, the impact of adoption and the understanding of it vary from life story to life story; therefore, it is especially important for adoptive parents to be able to discern how a movie might affect their children.
One social worker, Addison Cooper, is striving to help adoptive parents make informed decisions regarding the movies they choose for their family to watch. In his work experience, he has been able to be a part of over 100 children become part of a permanent family through foster adoption. Furthermore, he has been able to witness many more children reunify with their biological families. His career in social work has allowed him to be a positive and helpful influence in the lives of many. Addison cares about adoption because he truly cares for the children and families he serves.
When Addison was a relatively new social worker in the field of adoption, he attended a clinical training where he was introduced to several movies with adoption themes. He watched the movies and gained an awareness and better understanding of adoption. When given the opportunity to train new foster and adoptive families, he found the movies were a useful tool in helping families process what they were learning about adoption.
From this, Addison’s desire to use movies to help families and children grew. In 2012, he started his website, Adoption at the Movies. His hope was that families could access the website and find useful information for starting conversations with their children about topics related to adoption. He also wanted families to be aware of themes that some movies have that touch on loss, birth parents, foster care, adoption, and other emotional issues that envelope the life experiences of a child who was adopted.
Addison hopes that his website, Adoption at the Movies, will accomplish three main things. The first is that it will help parents be informed about the movies their children are watching and how to handle the adoption-relevant themes in them. His second goal is that the website can be a tool with which families can engage in conversations to process the movies they have watched. For example, “Did you just watch Superman? Superman is from a faraway place, and he sometimes feels like he can’t be from two places at once. Do you ever feel that way?” Addison feels that some movies are perfect starters for conversations like these and hopes families can find them on his website.
His last goal is to honor the films and filmmakers that present adoption in a positive manner while avoiding unhelpful and potentially harmful clichés and stereotypes. He would like for Adoption at the Movies to influence the way that Hollywood portrays adoption and adoptive families. His Adoption at the Movies Awards is a way to honor those filmmakers, and he hopes that others in Hollywood will eventually take notice in their depiction of adoption and adoptive families.
In 2014, one winner of the Adoption at the Movie Awards was “Big Hero 6.” In talking about it, Addison notes, “I love how Aunt Cass is so persistent in her love of the nephews she is raising and also how realistically the film shows Hiro feeling, and then processing and moving through, some profound losses.” His favorite movies for adoption-related themes include “Despicable Me 2,” “Closure,” “Belle,” and “Martian Child.” The short film “ReMoved” is also a powerful piece that follows a young girl’s journey through the foster care system. “ReMoved Part Two” is due out in May of this year.
In Addison’s opinion, adoption is oversimplified in mainstream media. “There are stereotypes that paint adoption as an only-happy event that saves a kid from the life they would otherwise have had. There are stereotypes that vilify birth parents,” Addison notes. “There are also stereotypes that suggest that adopted kids aren’t safe to be around. None of those stereotypes fully reflect reality, and seeing them in film probably reinforces those unhelpful ideas in society’s minds.”
He also feels that there is a gap in movie making when it comes to foster care adoption as well as a need for more positive reflections of open adoption and birth family members. “It’s hard to talk about issues of grief and identity, at least partly because societal stereotypes call for adoption to be ‘only happy,’” states Addison. “When films portray those things honestly, they make it safe for families to have conversations about those issues.” He would like to see characters work through realistic and mixed emotions about their family situation, and self-identity.
Adoption at the Movies is a great avenue for families to find and explore adoption-related themes in movies. It has also opened some doors for Addison in his own career. Currently, he is a practicing social worker and provides clinical supervision to other social workers dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children and families.
He is also a contributor for The New Social Worker, Adoptive Families, Foster Focus, Fostering Families Today, Adoption Today, and Focus on Adoption. In 2013, he was given the Emerging Leader Award by the alumni association of Eastern Nazarene College, and Adoption at the Movies was a nominee for Best Blog in the National Association of Social Workers’ Media Awards (2013).
Addison Cooper has taken his vision captured during a professional training and created an incredible avenue to help adoptive families and children. You can explore his website, or you can like Adoption at the Movies on Facebook.
In terms of goals for the future, Addison reports, “One of these days, I’d love to make a book about adoption and film. Keep your eyes open for it!”