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Geographies of Kinship: The Korean Adoption Story


NEH Development Grant Recipient
(Bridging Cultures Through Film, July 2011)

Geographies of Kinship: The Korean Adoption Story (working title) is a 90-minute documentary that explores the history of transnational adoptions of Korean children from the 1950s to the present. Directed by Deann Borshay Liem (In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, PBS, 2010; and First Person Plural, Sundance, 2000), Geographies of Kinship will use character-driven stories as a springboard to examine the complex interplay of geopolitics, transracial adoption, and cross-cultural kinship and identity in our increasingly globalized world.

Since the 1940s, Americans have adopted close to half a million children from over 100 different countries. The practice of adopting children from abroad began after World War II when large numbers of children were orphaned, abandoned, or separated from their parents in the conflagration. Moved by their plight, Americans began adopting war orphans from Europe and Japan as a way of providing humanitarian assistance. It was the Korean War (1950-53), however, that initiated what the Los Angeles Times called, “the first mass wave of international, interracial adoptions ever on the planet.”

While the United States has been the largest adoptive nation of Korean children—over 111,000 to date—other industrialized countries have played significant roles, with France and Sweden leading Europe in Korean adoptions. The inclusion of European, as well as the Korean and American characters, scholarship and points-of-view, will reveal the rich diversity of the adoption experience, while allowing for comparative perspectives on a phenomenon that truly bridges cultures.

The Korean adoption experience and subsequent Diaspora have transformed not only how adoption is practiced worldwide, but also how kinship, identity and race are perceived and contested. As the forerunner for a growing number of international adoptions from China, Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia and other countries, the Korean model challenges us to reflect on universal questions of identity, assimilation, kinship and belonging. A co-production with Mu Films, Geographies of Kinship will invite viewers to listen to those who have lived the experience most intimately – adoptees - while relaying a compelling history of epic scope.