I’ll just be honest–in many ways I haven’t been looking forward to writing this post and it’s been melting in my brain since I’ve seen the film in various stages. There’s just so much to unpack, so much nuance, so many community’s feelings and histories to think about, and at the same time it’s personal to me–and stepping outside of myself, trying to be objective, but still knowing I have my own opinions and feelings on the film and the discourse surrounding it–I wasn’t even sure I was going to write anything.
But here I am writing this post because at the base, as part of that blogger and journalist community–we put things out there to shine light on subjects, topics, voices, and points of view that may not be out there in either mainstream media, or in our communities–or just to consolidate that information–and because I don’t feel a POV and voice that reflects what I’m thinking about in total is out there–I do think it’s important to express that voice, if only just to throw it out in the ether–because we are not monoliths (Adoptees, Transracial Adoptees, Intercountry Adoptees, Asian Americans, Orphans).
A Few Housecleaning Items
Before I get into the thick of it though–a few things that I do think are important to know and set up.
A Piece Of The Adoptee/Orphan Lens I’m Writing From
I’m a Vietnamese American Adoptee, War Orphan, and Immigrant from the Vietnam War. I’ve sat on the Resource Committee For Adopted Adults (eventually left), the board for VAN–the Vietnamese Adoptee Network (and briefly served as its president), the board for Adopsource (a pan-adoptee organization) in its early days, and helped start out the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival. Along with two other Vietnamese Adoptees, a couple of years ago, helped co-found the Vietnamese Resource Center (for Adopted and Transracial individuals of Vietnamese descent) where we’ve been focusing in on language/culture/heritage and just got down piloting out a new language class. I also run a small micro-digital press which has published over 50+ adoptee authors in partnership with some amazing people and adoptees.
In that sense, I try to give back by putting my time, energy, and funds into the adoptee community in ways that I believe can help elevate voices, and strengthen on a community and personal level, because so much has been given to me on those levels. I wouldn’t be where I am in my journey without those individuals who helped pave the way and continue to do so.
At the same time, I do not actively work in the arena of Adoptee Citizenship, but I do try and support where I can and shed light when I can. And admittedly could do more.
I mention all the above so you know my POV–and that I’m also not new to the block either.
My Proximity To The Korean American Adoptee Community
Living in MN–Minneapolis/Saint Paul–land of the Korean Adoptees–I don’t know if this number is exactly correct (I may need to check the Farmer’s Almanac) but I think it’s something like if you walk three blocks without seeing a Korean Adoptee you’re legally considered blind, and I think you even get your own guide dog (but don’t quote me on that one because I think it’s county by county…).
I have KAD friends, worked on multiple projects with different AKs, sat on KAAN panels, support KAD work, projects, and research–and being in MN–I also married an AK who specializes in adoptee trauma/therapy and de-colonization as a profession.
It doesn’t give me any rights to anything–as it should not–but it gives me a glimpse into some things–and sometimes–I really do have to think about our similarities, and differences (speaking from a Viet Adoptee/War Orphan POV).
Being An APIA Blogger/Writer/Newshound/Journalist
Here it’s close to 7,000 posts over a 15 year period getting to know different organizations and people from the APIA community–either directly or just knowing their stories–and in that way I have so much love for my Asian American gia đình just as I do for my Adoptee and APIA Adoptee gia đình and have just tried to add to the community in my own way and represent for our community as much as I can. I’ve had the pleasure of blogging down at Hyphen Magazine and Justin Lin’s YOMYOMF, in addition to having posts at other sites (you can hit up the “About” section if you are interested for more).
And as you may have been able to tell–I’m not doing a lot of blogging here these days as I’ve been focused on some other projects/outlets, raising kids, and then also doing more straight journalistic/news writing and photography down at AsAmNews.com (a link to my stories).
The reason I’m putting this out there is that this is also part of my POV–and in that way I do try and be fair, especially concerning subject matter like this (versus me just talking ad hoc).
I Don’t Speak For Anyone Or Any Group So Let’s Keep The Collateral Damage To Me Only Please
It feels like the above should be fairly straight-forward so I won’t say much more except that I have some great people in my life who may not always agree with how I do things, or what I say–but they still support me–and while sometimes agreement and support are mutually exclusive–many times they do not have to be.
Is It Valid For Me To Comment Even Though I’m Not A Korean Adoptee?
I’m playing a little early defense here, and there’s more to this discussion–and I get it–but what I’ll say is that many adoptee communities, including the KAD community, has had their share of comments on the Vietnamese Adoptee community (in general), and films like Daughter From Danang or Operation Babylift.
Blue Bayou is different as it’s dramatic fiction–but the overall point still stands.
In that way, while some things are not in my realm–a lot of it is fair to discuss just like other things adoptee related.
Please Read The Whole Post First? And A Note On Sources
My ask, if you find yourself reading this, is to not quote me without reading the whole post first and also providing context. Otherwise this post is fair game just like anything else.
From a source and informational standpoint–I chose to go with information that is publicly accessible either on the Web or from social media that have posts tagged as public for everyone to read. While I could have gone to interview people–this post isn’t a straight news piece, and I’ve still been processing it all myself. I may do a series up somewhere else, but for this post–that’s where I got the information–and changing information at times, or more information. I don’t know anyone who’s name I write in this post, in a truly personal way–maybe a FB post here and there (and I did post asking where I could get the Adoptee Advocacy statement)–but I haven’t been hanging out with anyone having some drinks, talking on the phone, and already had an opinion, based in part on loyalty.
So now that those are taken care of–let’s get into it.
General Facts And Information About the Film And Community Responses
Who Were The Adoptee Consultants On The Film And Who’s Stories Looked To Influence The Main Character?
Justin Chon has stated in multiple articles that he had 5 different adoptee consultants. The ones I could verify mentioned by name specifically as consultants were:
- Julie Young – Korean Adoptee
- Kris Larsen – Vietnamese Adoptee
From a research and adoptee profile standpoint the adoptees that Justin Chon mentions by name who looked to influence the character, specifically citing news articles are:
- Adam Crasper – Korean Adoptee
- Philip Clay – Korean Adoptee
- Monte Haines – Korean Adoptee
At the same time Chon also spoke to Anissa Druesedow, a Panamanian Adoptee who was deported. I don’t know if he considered her one of his main consultants.
Adam Crasper’s Statement
Partially at the center of the controversy of the film is that the main character is based on Adam Crasper/uses his likeness, and used without his consent. Below is his statement that has been circulated widely (and is public on his FB page, versus only shown to his circle) and the Adoptees For Justice Statement condemning the movie for being exploitative and not having a call to action.
Statement from the Deported and Impacted Adoptee Community in Support of Blue Bayou
During the writing of this post, a new statement has come out in support of Blue Bayou from a group of Deported and impacted Adoptees, who had the opportunity to read and provide feedback on the script which sheds more light on the adoptees who contributed to the film. Here is a list of the adoptees as stated in the release:
- Annisa Druesedow – Panama
- Crystal Moran – El Salvador
- Ernesto – Panama
- Frank – St. Kitts
- Kris Larsen – Vietnam
- Mauricio Cappelli – Costa Rica
- Mike Davies – Ethiopia
- Monte Haines – South Korea
- Reny Javier – Spain
Points Of Debate On The Film
I’ve been thinking a lot about the meat of the arguments and discussions and some of the things I’m asking myself questions about. To make it a littler easier–I’m just going to list them out with my thoughts and I think in order of where I am from a conclusion standpoint.
1. Were Deported Adoptees Consulted On The Film?
I think there’s been some confusion on whether or not Adoptees who had been deported were consulted on the film (at least in the beginning of this all). At this point with all the information out there I think we can safely say there were.
At the same time, the way I look at this is that the film is ultimately about an Asian American Korean Adoptee who faces deportation. It’s not a film about an adoptee living in their land of origin. To me those are two different type of stories–absolutely connected, but also different from a sheer story standpoint. In that sense while I think it’s great that they did reach out to deported adoptees, you might be able to argue that talking with adoptees who could be deported could be more central to the story itself from a research perspective.
2. A Korean American Adoptee Should Have Played The Lead In The Film
If one of the main impetuses for the film was to help shine light on the unfair and barbaric treatment of adoptees through deportations–while I would have loved to see an adoptee in the lead–it doesn’t necessarily have to be–and I do feel that we have to give artists the room to work, and that means taking on characters that are not their own (and obviously within reason).
Just as much as Justin Chon has to bear responsibility for his film and learning about the adoptee community and having compassion for our community, I think the same has to be said from an adoptee community side on the APIA filmmaking community. In that way, you also have to take into consideration the landscape of APIA filmmakers–adopted and non-adopted–and how hard it is to get a film made and how as an APIA community we’re still fighting for representation overall as Asian Americans (although that does not infer that other representation shouldn’t happen). Having a name like Justin Chon attached to the movie as a writer/director/actor helps bring that movie, and distribution, to fruition.
I think while the call for representation is valid–and I’m not trying to invalidate where that comes from–I do think it also needs to be weighed with logistics, schedules, and that maybe some people weren’t right for the role regardless of if others thought they were.
3. Should Justin Chon Have Had An Acknowledgement To The Adoptee Community, The Consultants On The Film, And Those Stories That Inspired The Film?
I waited until the absolute end because I was curious to see who worked on the film and what the acknowledgements would be and I guess I just expected it to be there. When there wasn’t I definitely put a pin in that thought–and feeling–to come back to later.
While filmmakers and artists have rights to what they are doing from a creative standpoint, in this sense and for this type of subject material where you are going to the community on such a delicate matter–and taking into account the marginalization and exploitation of our Adoptee Voices–I wanted something more.
It should be noted though too–I don’t know what all the consultants or people who looked at the script–what their wishes were and if they wanted to be mentioned by name in acknowledgements or if they said they did not need to be or did not want be. According to the release by Adoptee Advocacy, this was indeed the case at least for one person in regard to having their picture shown at the end–which I can understand as well maybe everyone thought this was that type of acknowledgment.
For me, regardless though, I wanted a filmmaker acknowledgement to us as an Adoptee Community in general–something like “Thank you to the Adoptee Community for sharing your voices…”.
And I’m disappointed it wasn’t–and I hope that one is added to future releases.
4. Should This Film Have Even Been Made Considering The Subject Matter, Adoptee Community, And The History Of Exploitation And Marginalization Of Our Adoptive Communities By Those Who Are Not Adoptees?
Ken Burns may have a right to make documentaries about the Vietnam War–but it doesn’t mean that I think he should have made those because I feel like it’s the same POV we see all the time, and I get tired of it.
When we hear about White writers that craft fiction based on communities of color, who are not represented as much as White voices are, who’s stories have been exploited for profit, we get to rightly ask about agency, White Washing, and the overall lack of adding in a true and authentic voice.
While I do not think about this in the same way as White Adoptive Parents, or White Saviors, or White Social Workers, or White Adoption Agencies–absconding away with our voices for profit and fame (because there is “fame” even on that “community” level right?)–it is a valid question to ask.
If the movie’s not made, the work still goes on. The work that has been done prior to this, doesn’t go away.
At the same time–there are people who like the film, who see a piece of themselves in the film as an Asian American Adoptee or Korean American Adoptee, even though the main character was not played by a Korean American Adoptee or Asian American Adoptee, and who feel represented regardless of if deportation looms over them or not.
I’m still on the fence about whether or not this should have been made specific to voice and history–versus the main reason this movie was made.
5. Is This Adam Crasper’s Story?
The easiest way for me to parse and process this is with bullet points on specific items.
- Did The Main Character Have Facts About Adam Crasper’s Life In It? I think you can answer yes to this question, because we’re not talking about the general themes–there are very specific details that correlate strongly to specific information about Adam Crasper’s life which has been detailed in the Adoptees For Justice Release specifically, and also which has not been specifically denied to not be Adam Crasper’s:
- The age at which he was adopted.
- His partner being pregnant at the time of ICE intervention.
- His partner having an older daughter from a previous relationship that the main character treats as his own child.
- The adoptive father being abusive.
At the same time, Justin Chon specifically said in the Gold House interview that you cannot talk about Adoptee deportations without talking about Adam Crasper because of the publicity that it generated.
- Was This Adam Crasper’s Story In Total? I think you have to say it is not Adam Crasper’s life in total. There are differences in the main character’s story and Adam Crasper’s (at least that I’m aware, these are not pieces of Adam Crasper’s life):
- His Korean mother trying to drown him.
- Who he was married to.
- What he did as a profession.
- The storyline of the ex-husband’s buddy cop.
- The character’s “legal” reason for getting deported in missing the hearing.
- His location/where he lived.
- The Vietnamese American character who befriends him and who has cancer.
- Driving himself into a lake to commit suicide.
I think it’s fair that if we have a bullet point list of the details and facts of Adam Crasper’s life that are the same as the main character’s, we have to do the same for those differences as well. At the same time also keeping in mind that the weight you assign each similarity or difference, or them as whole, can be a deciding factor on whether or not you look at it from one perspective versus another.
Was The Main Character’s Story And The Film Influenced By More Than One Adoptee’s Story?
I think you have to say yes because of all the adoptees involved in the film and reading of the script, or the stories of adoptees in the research of the film.
Do I Believe Justin Chon Stole Adoptee Stories And Exploited Them For Profit And Fame?
Actors and writers can draw inspiration from real people and stories. They can do their research for roles and take tidbits from here and there to put into their character’s likeness. You hear things like “I based this tick on my Uncle…” or “There was this kid I used to know back in the town where I grew up who…” from interviews with writers/directors/actors.
It’s creative license.
At the same time, it’s creative license and gray areas that have been used to steal and exploit adoptee stories–as well as others–and it’s something we get to bring up and ask.
I do believe that Justin Chon though tried to tell the adoptee story and used multiple adoptee stories and influence to create not just the film, but also the character, which he did state is an amalgamation of multiple adoptee stories–and in that same vein, the film isn’t a biography of one person.
But I do think he used Adam Crasper as inspiration, in some of the likeness of the character, and including some key touchpoints from his life (from the information that is out there)–albeit all things point to him getting those from publicly available information (or maybe from others as well, I don’t know).
Both Justin Chon and Adam Crasper say there wasn’t dialogue between them, other than what we know–which doesn’t seem to be much–so it doesn’t seem like there was anything private used from Adam Crasper’s life by Justin Chon in the film.
In that way, when I ask myself if adoptee stories were stolen in the context of not reaching out to the community (regardless of if people think it was the right members, or the right number), or looking at us from a colonized White Savior lens not understanding our Brown and Black and Immigrant communities–or from a solely AP voice–and because the information on Adam Crasper is out there publicly–I can’t call it theft.
For me, theft–at least in some ways–has intent attached to it as well, and while intent can be used for the wrong things, I do believe as a filmmaker Justin Chon wanted to help bring an Asian American, Korean American, and Adoptee story to the foreground–because he saw the injustice in them, because he wanted to shed light on them, and I think also yes–from an actor/writer/director standpoint, it made sense.
I can’t come at this project the same way I do as someone who’s White, or a White AP, because Justin Chon isn’t one. It doesn’t mean he’s free from criticism, or that someone from our own ethnic or racial group can’t exploit us (because that can be a piece of adoption)–but from a community level, I at least, have to give some room for openness and interpretation.
And I have to respect those Adoptee Voices who were involved in the film.
I have to recognize their contributions to the project and to our community.
I can’t throw those voices away.
I can’t say that they are not relevant and erase them from this conversation.
Thoughts On The Film Itself
I went into the film being “cautiously optimistic” but “realistically pessimistic”. I was a Kickstarter supporter of Chon’s Gook and I thought he handled the material well, but even from the trailers, I wasn’t quite sure about this film. Would it be Adoptee Porn? Would it be one of the binary stories that too often we see where it’s all or nothing from a fictional and non-fiction standpoint? As much as I like and support APIA filmmakers–I just wasn’t sure on this one. Communities outside of the Adoptee Community don’t exactly have a great track record of showing our stories versus showing only what they want.
After seeing an advance screening a little while ago, and having some more time to process it–here are my thoughts, questions, and general musings.
1. Why Did Antonio’s Korean Mom Have To Try And Drown Him As A Baby? I get that there are so many different stories and that there’s a reality to why some adoptions happen, and I understand the metaphor of water and Antonio trying to commit suicide and how that’s the circle–but I feel like this still plays into the realm of See? We have to save you from those barbaric Asian people in regard to representation on screen, and in real life. I mean why not have her just try and eat the baby? Put some salt and pepper on that thing, get the fire going, and maybe even catch a fish because who doesn’t like Surf ‘N Turf?
2. Did Anyone Really Like The Cop/Ex-Husband Storyline? The “Redemption” Part? I know redemption is good for a story, but coming from Minneapolis/Saint Paul, I just don’t buy it. Maybe it’s just a location thing, but I don’t buy the cop handcuffing his partner because he helped get Antonio deported by kicking his ass and missing the hearing (but I could totally believe that). It just plays into the White Savior myth. The ex-husband didn’t care about Brown Immigrant Antonio–he cared about his White daughter and White wife. This wasn’t “I’m going to do the right thing because it’s the right thing”–this was survival on his part. And it’s a part of what helps drive the commodification of children–in particular Asian children to White families–and the laws that surround them–like not getting automatic citizenship.
For me–this definitely took away some points from the film. I don’t blame any of the adoptees for this one–because it sounds like they had their hands full and I get it from a dramatic standpoint–the idea of redemption–I just don’t think this was the right use of it.
3. Why Did All The Asian Women Have To Die? I did not point this out to myself right away. This was pointed out to me after the movie by an Asian American woman and Adoptee (because I have my blind spots). And it’s a valid question. It’s a Jeopardy question–I’ll take How Hard Is It To Keep An Asian Woman Alive For $1000 please.
Korean mamma is dead. Vietnamese mamma is dead. Parker–Vietnamese mamma’s daughter–she’s dead.
I mean couldn’t we at least have kept one? Just one?
4. I Loved The Story Between Parker And Antonio And The Vietnamese American Representation: I was surprised with the Vietnamese American presence–I don’t know why exactly I was so surprised–but for me it was one of the highlights of the film not only because of just having a Vietnamese American character in there, but I thought the relationship and the story between them–what they shared–it moved me in that way and I thought Linh Dan Pham was amazing–and if you do have to go–that’s they way to go out.
5. I Did Cry At This Movie: For sure–I can cry watching a romantic flash mob on YouTube–but that’s at home. I don’t want to sob in the movie theater–at home is okay–but at the movie theater with a lot of other theater goers–I’ll save my sobbing for private. And I didn’t sob–but I had to hold it back–I still cried during the ending (and there was another scene that got to me too). I mean–in that way, even with the aspects of the story I didn’t like, the story was well paced, the acting was great, it was filmed well, and I liked the editing and direction and the diversity of the cast.
In that sense there was still a lot to like about the film. I did feel a connection to the main character. To that feeling of displacement. That feeling of what happens next. The human connection. The fight for love. And I thought the story was complex when it came to the idea of fathers and stepfathers and blended families and how that intertwined with adoption and those very mutable ideas of family.
1. While Justin Chon has to take responsibility for his film, as Adoptees we also have to take responsibility for how we treat people and what we say in, and outside of the Adoptee community concerning this film. That rests squarely on us. He alone is not the cause of what is happening in some Adoptee Communities and circles.
2. In the end, I believe the pros outweigh the cons and that at the very least people should see it to make up their own mind. I do believe it can help shine a light on unfair deportation practices for intercountry adoptees here in the U.S. and that there is power in film in that way.
How far will it push along more conversations that can lead to more action?
That we don’t know, but we do know that art has always played a part in social movements and I think to shut it down would be shutting down one more avenue in helping to shine light on unfair practices of adoptee deportations as well as muffling the other Adoptees who contributed and helped to shape the film.
3. I’m not seeing a lot from the non-adopted APIA community on this and I wish I would see more follow ups from the same places that interviewed Justin Chon on the release of the film, and follow up for this specific topic of representation. I also think in the future from a representation standpoint, in reviewing a film, inspired by true events of APIA adoptees, they could bring in APIA adoptees to those conversations. Hats off to those who have.
And just as note–while I understand not being from the Adoptee community and not wanting to get involved and comment–everyone talks and comments on other things Asian American–and this is still within the realm (because you can still do it ethically and morally).
4. I feel like there’s this undertone that if you haven’t been working in this specific space as an Adoptee, you don’t have a right to comment on this film or on the subject matter and I don’t believe that–no matter what side you fall on. Not everyone is called to that specific work in the adoption and Adoptee community and can do politically minded work.
It doesn’t mean they don’t support it, or don’t try to support on a personal level, or that they can’t comment.
And it also doesn’t mean that they don’t work in their respective communities doing good work either. We’re all called to different projects and where we think we can be the most effective, and what might speak to us on a personal level.
5. I asked myself if this was a movie with a Vietnamese American Adoptee as the main character, played by a Vietnamese American actor who wasn’t adopted, and it was the same circumstances, how would I feel? Who would I think might have the right to comment on it? It’s something I’ve thought about and wanted to be realistic about–because it goes to the core of what these discussions are about in some ways–and I do think there would be a part of me that would be like “This is a Viet Adoptee thing, you all don’t get it and you don’t need to”–for sure–that’s a reality. But I would also like to think–if it was the same circumstances–that I would come to the same conclusions as I am now.
That I would be open enough and understanding that other people felt it was also their story–that there was a larger view.
6. If you have an issue with Kris Larsen because of his past record, and use that against him, especially in this context, it’s myopic. He paid his dues and he’s been putting in his time for getting Adoptees Citizenship–and one of the things at the heart of that dialogue is that no matter what your record, no matter what your past–you have a right to stay in this country. You get a right to change and have more chances. I just find it ironic that this is being used against him in these discussions.
7. I think this–like other things–has fueled the fluffy vs critical adoptee binary narrative once again–and we do it to ourselves sometimes–and I wish we’d stop. You can like or not like something and not have to deconstruct it. It’s okay to just feel it.
8. On a call to action at the end of the film–I do think they should have added that–for sure–but I also think of the film in some ways as a call to action itself because people can certainly search for more information.
9. We all get the room to grow and expand our narratives and thoughts and that includes me as well from all my perspectives and identities that I hold.
Adoptee Citizenship Act Links
Adoptee Citizenship Act: https://www.adopteecitizenshipact.org/
Senate Bill: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/967?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22S.+967%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=1
House Bill: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1593
Bill Summary PDF: https://f5f97d00-5d8c-4182-80ca-c01d1e4adabf.filesusr.com/ugd/c85eab_9b28db680eba4a96acce221ca750c28b.pdf
Bill Summary Image Below
Other Resources And Links From This Post