Letter to the Editor: “Orphan”

This Letter to the Editor appeared in today’s edition of our local paper. 

“Orphan doesn’t represent real adoption stories”

As an avid filmgoer, teacher of literature, and adoptive parent, I feel compelled to share with you a few thoughts on the film Orphan, which was released on Friday, 24 July 2009.  This film, based on its initial and unfortunate trailer as well as the summaries readily available in print and online, has been heavily criticized—particularly by adoption advocates and adoptive parents; and much of the criticism is justified.  But some perspective may be in order.

 The premise of the film, which is classified as horror, involves a grieving couple who have lost a biological child and make the decision to adopt.  They are drawn to a nine-year-old girl named Esther who, according to one review, is “not what she seems,” which is, of course, code that the young girl is violent and dangerous.  And thus the formulaic horror story can begin.

 Adoption advocates and adoptive parents first became aware of and alarmed by this film when the trailer, which aired briefly before it was changed in response to the criticism, asked the question:  Is it possible to love an adopted child as much as your own?  To the producers’ credit, they changed the language; however, the fact that it was released in the first place should remind us all that there is still much work that needs to be done in terms of promoting positive adoption language.  A child who joins his/her family through adoption is that family’s own child—no exceptions.

 Criticism continued to mount when people felt that this film might turn people away from adoption, especially the adoption of older children, or cause people to stereotype children who have been adopted.  Quite frankly, I do not think this film has or will have nearly as much power as this.  It is a horror film and most likely a mediocre one at best.  And while it’s certainly wise to watch for and address any repercussions, I don’t think it’s necessary to anticipate such a grave result. 

 We have all read books and seen films that utilize unfortunate stereotypes in the name of plot development, so-called entertainment, and a quick sale—but these are not the books and films that people turn to again and again; they are not the works that affect people’s lives.  It is the works that debunk myths and smash stereotypes that have the power to effect change.  Orphan is not that film.  For some, it may be worth the price of admission; for many, it won’t.  But something tells me that if someone is looking to more fully understand adoption and to see what it truly looks like, they are not going to turn to this film. 

Samantha Hines


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