Adoption-Related Films

Featured Films:

A Girl Like Her A film by Ann Fessler, author of “The Girls Who Went Away”. A Girl Like Her reveals the hidden history of over a million young women who became pregnant in the 1950s and 60s and were banished to maternity homes to give birth, surrender their children, and return home alone. They were told to keep their secret, move on and forget. But, does a woman forget her child? A must see film for mothers, persons adopted and their families.

Gone to a Good Home An award-winning documentary which exposes how Australian authorities forced many unmarried mothers from the 1950s to the 1970s to give up their babies for adoption.   The dramatic story of Origins Director Lily Arthur.  (52 mins) Can be ordered from:

Screen Australia
ABN 46 741 353 180
Sales Office | GPO Box 3984 Sydney NSW 2001
T 1800 213 099 or +61 2 8113 1064 |
F 1800 077 471 or +61 2 9357 1392
Email |

Teachers Notes for this documentary are available here.

The Forty Year Secret (2009)
The 40 Year Secret examines a very dark period of Canada’s social history. The 1960s are remembered as being a very liberating time, but it wasn’t so for everybody. Almost everyone knows of a girl who “went away” and then returned, no questions asked. The 40 Year Secret” gives a voice to young women who for the most part did what they were told by, after giving birth, signing papers putting their babies up for adoption. These girls then returned home and tried to pretend that nothing ever happened. Their ‘secret’ would haunt them for decades. Many have searched unsuccessfully for the babies they lost. Access to adoption records has been inconsistent across the country, despite years of political lobbying by various groups.
View documentary here
DVD can be purchased at

Adopted: For the Life of Me When adoptees seek their birth families we generally think of young people in their 20’s and 30’s. But what about adoptees who are over 50? What about an adoptee who’s 92, seeking closure on her origins before she dies? While nine states have reversed sealed records laws in the past twelve years (and two never sealed them), thirty-nine states in America continue to hide an adoptee’s birth information from them – forever. Legislation is currently being debated in several states that would provide access to records for adopted citizens. As the debate goes on, adoptees – and birthparents – are dying without closure about one of the most significant events and relationships of their lives.

Butterbox Babies (1995) Set in the late 1930s in Nova Scotia, this shocking true drama chronicles the activities of Lila and William Young, the proprietors of an unscrupulous orphanage. Charging exorbitant amounts of money to women and adoptive parents, the Youngs’ horrific treatment of unwanted infants is made all the more chilling as they invoke divine justifications for their actions.

The Magdalene Sisters (2003) Set in 1960s Ireland, this drama was based on the true stories of young women sent away by their families for perceived sexual offences–from flirting with boys and out-of-wedlock pregnancies to being victims of rape–to prison-like laundries run by the Catholic Church. The film follows three girls who seek to escape from the “sanctuary” and its head nun’s harsh discipline.

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) Set in early 1930s Australia, this heartfelt and compelling drama tells the true-to-life story of three young half-Aborigine girls who, in accordance with national policies concerning mixed race children, are taken from their families and sent to a special school to prepare for a life of menial labour. Escaping their confines, the girls embark on a 1,500-mile trek towards home.

Other Adoption-Related Films:

Philomena Becoming pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee was sent to the convent of Roscrea to be looked after as a “fallen woman”. When her baby was only a toddler, he was whisked away by the nuns to America for adoption. Philomena spent the next fifty years searching for him in vain. Philomena meets Martin Sixsmith, a world-weary journalist as cynical as Philomena was trusting. Together they set off for America on a journey that would not only reveal the extraordinary story of Philomena’s son, but also the powerful bond that grew up between Philomena and Martin – a surprising relationship that was both profoundly moving and very funny.

Off and Running Avery grew up with white Jewish lesbians as parents and two adopted brothers – one mixed-race and one Korean. When when her curiosity about her African-American roots grows, she decides to contact her birth mother. This choice propels Avery into her own complicated exploration of race, identity, and family that threatens to distance her from the parents she’s always known. She begins staying away from home, starts skipping school, and risks losing her shot at the college track career she had always dreamed of. But when Avery decides to pick up the pieces of her life and make sense of her identity, the results are inspiring. OFF AND RUNNING follows Avery to the brink of adulthood, exploring the strength of family bonds and the lengths people must go to become themselves. Written by Off and Running

Mercy Mercy Mercy Mercy follows the process of one adoption from both sides of the globe, during four hard years. We experience the consequences for the biological parents, who are not prepared for the conditions and processes of international adoption. And we follow the Danish couple, who are not prepared to parent two children, who already have parents. Finally, it shows how the oldest of the two children, four-year-old Masho, is suffering the detrimental consequences of an adoption gone wrong.
Mercy Mercy raises important questions about the ethical and political implications of international adoption.

In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee Her passport said she was Cha Jung Hee. She knew she was not. So began a 40-year deception for a Korean adoptee who came to the US in 1966. Told to keep her true identity a secret from her new American family, this eight-year-old girl quickly forgot she was ever anyone else. But why had her identity been switched? And who was the real Cha Jung Hee? IN THE MATTER OF CHA JUNG HEE is the search to find the answers.

Red Road  Red Road” is a Native adoption documentary dealing with the 60’s scoop, shot between Ontario and Saskatchewan now available on DVD with public performance rights. Red Road was a featured film at the 2005 Alaskan Native Film Festival and winner of the Silver Award at the Houston Worldfest film festival. The film was also qualified as a learning resource tool through Saskatchewan Learning and Alberta Learn and part of over 120 university/college library collections for classroom use.An   Web Site:
Preview Links:–Lt11tTk 

August Rush (2007) Escaping the orphanage, young musical prodigy Evan (Freddie Highmore) makes a living on the New York City streets working as a busker for the Wizard (Robin Williams), the colourful caretaker to a group of other hbiomeless kids. Hoping to reunite with the parents he never knew, Evan–renamed August Rush by the Wizard–trusts in the miracle of music to guide him.

How About You (2007) A charming British comedy about four grumpy ageing residents of an up-scale British group home. Vanessa Redgrave is stunning, as always, as one of the residents. Although the movie is about ageing and the relationships between the residents and their caretakers, there is a touching sub-plot about adoption.

Dalva (2005) Stars Farrah Fawcett as Dalva, Peter Coyote, Powers Booth and Rod Steiger. This is a mother’s dream-of-a-movie that tells it like it is. 15-year-old Dalva loses her son when her father whisks the baby away at birth, telling her it is to protect her from pain. The story is interwoven with Navajo, Sioux and Lakota ancestry, which adds to the intrigue. An excellent movie. Keep tissues handy.

The Italian (2005) In a small Russian village, a six-year-old boy spends his days living in a run-down orphanage. When an Italian couple decides to adopt him and take him to their country with them, he embarks on a life-changing journey as he attempts to find his mother. In Russian with English subtitles.

Loggerheads (2005) Issues of regret and redemption are explored in this contemplative drama featuring three interconnected stories set during different time periods. Through the experiences of a young gay drifter who encounters a kindly motel manager, a woman haunted by her decision to give up her child for adoption and a small town preacher’s wife who begins to question her conservative ways.

Casa de los Babies (2003) The stories of six white American women, all but one over thirty, impatiently waiting out their residency requirements in an unidentified South American in order to bring home a baby. The picture shows two sides of international adoption: the unhappy maid who gave up her baby and tries to comfort herself imagining her daughter’s happy life in El Norte and the squeegee kids who have been abandoned by their impoverished parents. Excellent cast with Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, and Rita Moreno.

Antwone Fisher (2002) In his directorial debut, Denzel Washington delivers a powerful portrait of Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke), an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy whose angry outburst leads him to a compassionate psychiatrist (Washington). The initial friction between the two turns to trust as Fisher relates his troubled life story. Eventually through finding his  natural family he can move forward.

The Lost Child (2000) A Hallmark Hall of Fame original film, a true story of an adoptee raised by Jewish parents who discovers her Navajo heritage. She, her husband, and their two daughters move to the reservation and become part of her Navajo family. The film is a powerful work that explores adoption and interpersonal issues, as well as these cultural conflicts.

Secrets and Lies (1996) The story of a working class family already in conflict when a successful black woman Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) contacts her white mother Cynthia Rose Purley (Brenda Blethyn). After the initial shock, the two women develop a strong relationship which Purley initially keeps secret. Eventually she introduces Cumberbatch to her family and the family begins to resolve its conflict.

To Face Her Past (1996) Made for TV movie.  Beth Bradfield is a wife and grandmother with a seemingly perfect life. But her world is turned upside down when her adult daughter, Lori, is diagnosed with leukemia and in need of a bone marrow donor. Beth must seek out Megan, the daughter she abandoned many years ago, as a possible match.

Buffalo Girls (1995) stars Angelica Huston as Calamity Jane and Melanie Griffith as her best friend and saloon madam, Dora. Although the movie isn’t about adoption specifically, it is certainly a very interesting look into the life of Calamity Jane who describes herself as half-man, half woman. The story is set in the waning days of the Wild West. Calamity Jane is a different kind of natural mother, but like all mothers, she grieves and searches for the daughter she gave away, thinking she could not take care of her given the unusual life she led of roaming the West, trapping, fighting and hard-drinking. Other actors are Peter Coyote, Sam Elliot, Jack Palance, and Reba McEntire (in a small part as Annie Oakley). An interesting piece of Old West history that isn’t widely known.

The Other Mother (1995) Made for TV movie based on Carol Schaefer’s memoir of the surrender of her son for adoption and her search for him when he turned 18. The film stays close to the book, and Carol (Frances Fisher) is portrayed honestly and sympathetically. [not available on DVD or through Netflix; shown occasionally on Lifetime channel.]

Stolen Babies (1993) Made for TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore. Loosely based on the story of Georgia Tann. A 1940s Tennessee welfare worker learns that the charismatic head of a local adoption agency, is actually running a profitable black-market baby ring aided by corrupt public officials.

Delinquent Parents (1938) The problem of juvenile delinquency is explored in this provocative melodrama. After a young girl gets pregnant and marries the baby’s father, her lover’s parents annul the couple’s nuptials and she is forced to put the child up for adoption. Growing up to become a judge, she is forced to face her past when a case brings her now-adolescent daughter into her courtroom.