Stories that portray the lives of orphans and adopted children are infamous. Some examples include Annie and the Harry Potter series. For adopted students at Berkeley High School (BHS), media representation of these experiences has done more damage than good.
Malia Dornon, a sophomore in Arts Humanities and Academics (AHA), knew from a young age that she was born and adopted in Chongqing, China. Her opinions on the media’s depiction of adoption, foster care, and orphans are those of discontent. “In the media, adoption is portrayed in an unhealthy way,” she said. “Parents are disconnected [from] their adopted child and more focused on their biological child.” This is a skewed perspective, as there are many scenarios where adoptions turn out to be successful and happy.
“I think that when people hear that someone’s adopted, they instantly think that their parents didn’t love them [or] they were a mistake, which could be true in some cases,” Dornon explained. “For others, it’s not [this way]. There may have been a tragedy in the family, maybe the family wasn’t able to take care of their kid.” Movies like Harry Potter perpetuate this narrative, leading people to believe that all adoptees they meet were undesired by their birth parents.
“Media portrayal is kind of a two-edged sword. Much of what’s in the media now is to evoke an emotional response, and that’s what it’s pretty good at doing,” said Thomas Fulton, a member of the Northern California Family Center in Martinez. He explained that often what’s shown are kids who grew up in foster care and who end up living a bad life or being abused by their foster parents, and that this depiction is often artificial.
Fulton also touched on the other part of foster care, the side that gives kids in need a chance to succeed. “[The media industry] doesn’t talk about the other side, where the kids are getting taken care of, better off than they are with their original family,” he explained. He mentioned the movie Shazam (2019) as a more accurate portrayal of foster care. The film sheds light upon the great parts of foster care and the families that are created from the system, and despite the whole superhero aspect, managed to really change the narrative that is so often forced onto kids in the system.
All of this is not to say that there aren’t harmful aspects of foster care and the system in place for children in need. In fact, the number of group homes for foster children has been decreasing in the past few years, creating fewer resources for an already underfunded program.
Although the system needs to be fixed, so does the media’s portrayal of adoption and foster care. As Dornon and Fulton mentioned, there are many miscalculated beliefs around this form of parenting, and although there are many kids who are mistreated by their foster families, the media needs to shed more light on the positive aspects and scenarios.