Adoption Reunion Documentary, Closure , Raises Interesting Questions

Closure is a well-made film of a personal and very emotional journey. It documents Angela's search and reunion with her black birth father and mother and their extended families. Raised by white adoptive parents in a large, mixed-race family (eight children, seven of whom are adopted) in Bellingham, Washington (with a population of 80,000, 85 percent white), Angela at age 26, a college graduate and married begins her search. She uses the meager information she has from an adoption agency which placed her as an infant to mount an ultimately successful Internet search.

We are easily drawn into this drama because Angela is a beautiful, emotionally strong black woman. Both her white husband Bryan Tucker, the filmmaker, and her adoptive parents are admirable people. At first they don't understand why Angela needs to find her birth parents, but they come to accept it. They justify her search by saying that it is important for her to find someone who looks like her. Angela in interviews says she wants to stabilize her identity, not just by finding physical resemblances, but also to understand the biological basis of some of her personality traits and to become more comfortable in African-American culture.

The film follows Angela's meeting with her birth father (whom she physically resembles)
and his extended family in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The birth father and his family always thought he was sterile and didn't know Angela existed. But they all embrace Angela and her adoptive family. A DNA test proves his paternity, but before the results are in, a family member says: "We don't need the test; just look at the resemblance."

This is not a film that explores race or class issues in any depth. It doesn't reveal Angela's feeling about growing up in a white city. (Read Jaiya John's memoir, Black Baby, White Hands to get such a perspective.) Nor does the film explore the reactions of the black birth families to the more affluent white adoptive parents. It does not look at how the white parents and their biological daughter handle the less affluent black families who also have a distinct culture.

Without consultation, the birth father drives the adoptive family unannounced to meet Deborah, the birth mother. Not a strategy that would be recommended by reunion experts. There the love fest dies. Deborah angrily turns them away, denying she is the birth mother. Since the adoption agency had given Angela the birth mother's first name, and the father confirms his relationship with her, Angela knows that this is the right woman. She returns home to Washington discouraged, but vows to go on searching.

More than a year later, Angela on-line finds the birth mother's sister and contacts her. She discovers that Deborah had never told anyone in her family about Angela's existence. Through support and pressure from her extended family, Deborah backs down and invites Angela and her family to visit Chattanooga again. Unlike another film maker who followed an adoption reunion in process -- Gail Dolgin's Daughter from Danang -- Closure has a happy ending.

As a white adoptive mother in California who helped my biracial son find and reunite with his Louisiana birth family only three years prior to Angela's search and reunion, I couldn't help compare my experience with that depicted in the film.

My son was the same age as Angela, 26, when we began the search. Since his was a private adoption, we had the birth parent's names. My son was too scared of rejection to initiate the search and I didn't know if it was appropriate for me to do it, so I hired a searcher for two hundred dollars. In one day, she found the birth mother and talked to her on the phone. The searcher learned that the white birth mother had told her other three mixed race children about their adopted brother ten years earlier and would welcome a reunion. One day later, my son and his birth mother talked on the phone. She wanted to meet right away, but he needed more time and more interaction by phone and mail. They met four months later at her other son's temporary home in the military in southern California, Soon after, my son visited Louisiana to meet the extended family.

The birth mother helped find the black birth father whom she had told 25 years earlier that the baby had died. My son physically resembled his birth father and the black extended family embraced him. He went for two extended stays in Louisiana, one for six months and another for four months, where he lived consecutively with the birth mother and then the birth father. Only several years later, did I go with my son to visit both extended birth families, who were very welcoming to me. I loved the Creole and Cajun culture and food of southern Louisiana, but I had to struggle with some of my middle class biases.

I noticed one similarity in our search and reunion compared to Angela's family, and several differences:

In both cases, meeting the extended families, and their help and support, were as important as interactions with the birth parents. In both our birth families, and probably in many others, the birth parents had more problems and were less successful in life than other members of their families. Family members in Closure refer to the birth father's drug problems. He's a charming character, who is widely known in the city as he drives the streets handing out flowers to people. But in his early fifties, he still lives with his mother and is probably economically supported by her. His mother tells us that he is lax in taking the medicine for his recently diagnosed cancer and she has trouble getting him to his doctor's appointments. We see the birth mother say that she smokes two packs a day and her family members refer to her social and emotional isolation. Such facts, and the addictions that I found in my son's birth parents, are not surprising, since people give up children for adoption only if they have problems.

What was different about our reunions was how the adoptive parents related to it. Angela's husband, parents and some siblings went with her for both reunion trips. She says in the film that she always imagined doing the reunion alone, but she appreciated her family's support. While I approved and helped with my son's reunion, I did not meet his birth families until several years later, after he had gotten to know them well. This was not necessarily his preference, for he asked me to come earlier. Seeing Closure made me rethink my decision. Even though my son was 27-years-old when he met his birth mother, he was not that emotionally mature. My participating from the beginning might have prevented some of the ways that his birth parents' problems with addiction reinforced his own. On the other hand, my guess is that after my participation in the initial meetings, he would still have wanted to move to Louisiana for a time and I could not have stopped him without damage to our relationship. For a while, he fell in love with his black father, something I had not given him. I let him go, trusting my bond with him, and wanting him to find himself, even if it was so far away. As it turned out, he soon returned to California, primarily because of all the friends, black, biracial and white he has here. Now, he and I independently keep contact with some family members in Louisiana, but no one has ever visited us in California.

I feel that Angela's family accompanying her to the reunion, while supportive, asserted their family's claim on her. She might not have had space to explore her own feelings about these new families. The very title of the film indicates that the husband/filmmaker and the adoptive family are still enmeshed in the culture of closed adoption. In this culture, the adoptee is severed from her birth family and becomes a member of a new family. In reunion, the adoptee gains closure for questions about her roots, but she does not extend family ties to include both birth and adoptive families. I was surprised, therefore, when at the end of the documentary, Deborah, the birth mother visits Angela's family in Bellingham, indicating ongoing relationships.

Perhaps Bryan Tucker will make a sequel film exploring Angela's feelings and looking at how she deals with her many potential family ties. When she and Bryan have interracial children, will they want them to meet these black families? I am left with the question: Can reunions, and adoptions that are kept open from the beginning, create new types of extended families, ones that cross more racial, class and biological lines than traditional extended families?

You can stream, download or buy a CD of Closure for very little money on the web site