Stuck: Documentary on International Adoption

Dawn Davenport


Documentary on International AdoptionsI, like the rest of the online adoption world, had heard of the new documentary, Stuck, on international adoption that is being released today. So when I received notice that the New York Times had reviewed this film, I immediately stopped what I was doing to read it.

  •  “…an unabashed sales pitch for international adoption”
  •  “aims for the heart much more than the mind”
  • “Thriving adoptees pop up at regular intervals to confess how thrilled they are to be in America, while excerpts from a Harvard study of Romanian orphanages hammer home the dire consequences of an institutionalized childhood.”

Umm, I guess she didn’t like it. This review was in such stark contrast to the trailer I had seen and the buzz I was hearing that I did something I’ve never done before. I called up Both Ends Burning, the foundation that produced it, and asked for a review copy. After seeing it, I begged to shuffle around the Creating a Family show schedule for the coming week (also something I almost never do because it makes our producer very cranky), and invited Craig Juntunen, the founder of Both Ends Burning and Executive Producer of, and heart behind, Stuck to be this week’s guest.

What I Thought of Stuck

My first reaction to Stuck was to wonder if the NYT reviewer and I had seen the same movie. Stuck is many things, but not a sales pitch for international adoption. If anything, it paints too bleak a picture of the difficulties of adopting from Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Haiti, and by extension makes it seem that all international adoptions are equally fraught with such heartache.

I loved Stuck, and thought the NYT reviewer went out of her way to feign a too-cool-to-be-moved attitude, but I agreed with her in part.

“[W]hile it’s hard to concentrate on systemic problems when faced with the rotting teeth of an adorable Vietnamese orphan, it’s those very problems that require our most intense scrutiny.”

She is right that the systemic problems of the orphan crisis and with international adoption should require our most intense scrutiny. These problems are complex, and all solutions are fraught with hazards. It’s such a balancing act between finding families quickly for the kids that need them, but not encouraging parents to relinquish children that they could possibly raise; between providing help for birth families and being respectful of cultural differences. And how in the world can we design a system that discourages fraud when we are infusing often very poor countries with huge amounts of money from hopeful adoptive parents. I’m convinced that international adoption has a role to play in worldwide orphan care, although I hope it is not a starring role. Those of us who care passionately about keeping international adoption as one option for children without parents must be vocal proponents of the other in-country options for these children. I was chomping at the bit to talk about all this with Craig Juntunen.

My Interview with the Producer

While Craig engaged with me in talking about the balancing act we walk in providing the best care for children whose parents aren’t able, he kept coming back to the need for raising awareness. It hit me about half way through the interview that he was right. When you are immersed in the world of orphans, like I am, it is easy to forget that not everyone is aware of the problem. The goal of Stuck is to raise this awareness.

Stuck was never intended to be an analysis of the complexities of caring for orphans. Stuck’s goal is to graphically and poignantly illustrate that the system we currently have is broken. It succeeded. The system is indeed broken, and Stuck is a great vehicle for driving this point home.

I look forward to the next step of trying to develop solutions to the orphan crisis, but here’s where the NYT reviewer was dead wrong—we should absolutely keep the faces of toothless orphans in mind when we seek these solutions. Their faces should in fact be our guiding light. If you’ve seen it, what did you think?

Listen to my interview with Craig Juntunen. You can also download it and/or add it to your RSS feed. A list of topics we discussed is below.




After our interview Craig invited me to join him for the Q and A session after the screening of Stuck in Charlotte, NC. If you are within driving distance of Charlotte this Sunday, March 3, please join us at Northlake Mall. The movie starts at 7:00, but the festivities begin at Bravo Restaurant at the Mall at 5:00 with free professional family portraits. I would love to have you be part of the discussion after the showing. Oh, and please introduce yourself to me. Meeting our online community is one of the highlights of what I do, and it happens too seldom for my taste.

If you aren’t near Charlotte, check out the rest of the Stuck tour to see if they are coming near you. If you can’t join one of the tour showings, you can also buy a DVD of Stuck.

What Craig and I talked about on the Creating a Family Show:

  • How has the Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption affected international adoptions? For the good? For the bad?
  • Is supply of available children to adopt the real barrier to international adoption?
  • The documentary says that a country needs to develop their domestic adoption and foster care systems. However, if the money is all in international adoption, how likely is it that a country will develop these systems — especially if the country is poor?
  • How do we address the fundamental tension in international adoption that whenever large amounts of money are exchanged between a wealthy country and a really poor country, there is a huge potential for corruption.
  • Has the cessation of international adoptions stemmed the tide of children and babies ending up in orphanages in Cambodia and Guatemala?
  • Why adopt abroad when there is so much need at home?
  • How can international adoption handle the cultural differences? In the context of international adoption, these cultural differences tend to be in how poor families view government care, or what we may call orphanage care. Also, it can include the idea of sending children to live with others in exchange for later support of the family. In some countries, there is just a greater acceptance that children should be sent to a care facility, but the intent is not to give this child up permanently. In essence these orphanages serve as boarding schools.
  • What are some of the reasons for the drastic drop in international adoptions?
  • What can we do to support international adoptions and provide families for the children who have no other option?
  • What is UNICEF’s position on international adoption? Are they friend or foe?
  • Does Both Ends Burning want to tweak the Hague Treaty or overhaul it?
  • What are some of the problems with the Hague Treaty?


Image credit: Both Ends Burning

01/03/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 25 Comments

25 Responses to Stuck: Documentary on International Adoption

  1. Avatar vaness says:

    The movie was an emotional tear jerker (luckily with happy endings for the families you got attached to), despite all the barriers all it made me want to do was adopt a younger sibling for my wonderful child. Went right to foster pages locally and national adoption agencies despite being a single parent. Inspiring and just beautiful! Great work!

    Best of luck and best wishes of health for all those families involved. Pat yourselves on the back.

  2. Avatar marie says:

    I place alot of the blame on that lady that sent her Russian adopted son back on the plane by himself…She has ruined the adoption process for so many waiting families…
    I am very sadden by the now 3 year wait(if you are lucky) just to adopt a child.
    All these children that have a wonderful life waiting for them-that they may never get to have:(

  3. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    Jen, it helped me once I realized that this movie was never intended to be a total and complete look at the complexities of international adoption; rather, its intent is to raise awareness that there are many children growing up without parents and the systems set up throughout the world to deal with this problem are deeply flawed.

  4. Jen Jen says:

    I am helping to promote my local screening on 5/11 in Princeton, NJ. I can’t wait! Great interview with Craig, Dawn. You asked all the tough and complex questions that were on my kind too. This is such a complex issue. There is no quick and easy answer.

  5. Deb Deb says:

    Thanks for responding Dawn, it seems there is no answer. I, as well as most everybody else, agrees that birthmothers should not be coerced in anyway to give up their child. This seems to be the core of the problems that people have with international adoption and seems to be the corruption mentioned most that leads to a country being shut down. However, it does amaze me that it is seeminly acceptable for potential adoptive parents to buy gifts and pay for things above and beyond the basics for birthmothers in the US. How is that different?

  6. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Deb, it is such a complex issue. Yes, you shouldn’t change rules midway, unless you see a problem that you feel must be fixed, which in essence is what happened in Vietnam. And then I think back to Guatemala. We saw that closing coming for months and months and were shouting from the proverbial rooftops for parents to not start the adoption process, yet hundreds flocked to get their process started and got “stuck”, just as was predicted. But the thing that I keep coming back to is that just because adoptions close down from a country does not mean that the flow of children into governmental care stops. Yes, without a doubt there are potential problems with international adoptions, but it is also the only hope for many many children.

  7. Avatar Rosie says:

    I am so curious to see this film. I plan to go and support it when it comes to NYC on May 9th. I know that’s a ways a way but if anyone wants to join let me know!
    Thank you again and again for keeping us all in the loop, Dawn!

  8. Avatar Nick says:


    Yes – Ellie is our dog. Unfortunately, our other one that you see in the opening scenes passed shortly after the filming.

    Nate is pure sunshine. He speaks English like a native. He is gearing up for kindergarten in the fall and it just a wonderful kid. It is amazing what a year of love will do for a child.

    He has just welcomed his brother Alex home from China so that is a bit of an adjustment – but both boys are doing well.

  9. Avatar Deb says:

    I downloaded the movie and watched it yesterday. Whew, went through a box of Kleenez! So powerful. I think the main thrust of the movie for me was that it’s just not fair for countries, including the US, to change the rules in the middle of an adoption. It leaves parents already attached to children, and children who wonder when they are going home. The families waiting for children from Haiti and Vietnam was so emotional. Vietnam has been mostly closed for the last 10 years-shortly after I brought home my daughter. It’s sad for everybody. When I started the process to adopt in 2000, it was true that if you hung in there and did what you needed to do, you would eventaully get a child, but it’s not that way anymore. Sad that with so many waiting children and so many good people wanting to adopt that something can’t be done. The Hague sure doesn’t seem like the answer.

  10. Avatar Rosalie Purvis says:

    I really want to see this when it comes to NYC May 9th. I know that isn’t for a while but let me know if any of you around here would like to join!

  11. Avatar Melissa Siebenthal says:

    I haven’t yet seen the film Stuck. I have tickets for the Sacramento, CA showing on April 1st. But, I just wanted to mention that as a topic, international adoption is very complicated. It would be difficult for any movie or book to cover the entire topic, so I’m happy to hear that this movie doesn’t attempt to do that. No matter what people now think about international adoption (whether it’s cool or not), I think that many critics forget that we are talking about children. Individual children with their own souls and potential. That’s what my husband and I think about as we think about our daughter growing up in a Russian orphanage instead of our family. She has a chronic medical condition, and will likely never be adopted in her home country, never receive proper medical care, and will be put out on the street at 16. How is that a better life for her than with her loving family, even if her family is on the other side of the world? No expert can convince me that she’s better off growing up in that Russian orphanage.

  12. Avatar Nick says:

    Thank you for your thoughts regarding the NYT review. I admit as one of the families in the film, I am a little bit biased, but I was surprised at the vicious tone by the critic. The intent of the movie was not to explore the challenging ethical considerations between a child remaining in their culture and moving to the United States. It is also not in anyway to diminish the number of children in the US that need adopting. Those are both very good things that need to be addressed, but at the end of the day, I think all can agree that the need for these children to get out of an orphanage and into a loving home is critical. As my wife stated so eloquently in the movie – we were Nate’s only hope. People who complain about the loss of a child’s cultural heritage should explain that to the starving children when they justify the reduction in international adoption.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Nick, from where I sit and from what I hear, not many people would argue that the only reason they are against international adoption is because of their concern about loss of cultural heritage. I think they would more likely phrase it as the preferred option would be to find a home for a child within their birth country either through healing the birth family, or placing with extended family, or through domestic adoption. Clearly in the hierarchy of basic human needs, the need for a permanent family trumps the need for the culture of your birth. To argue otherwise would show a complete lack of understanding of human development.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story in Stuck. How is Nate doing now and is Ellie (wasn’t that the dog’s name) Nate’s dog now?

  13. Avatar Yen's Mom says:

    Thank you for this post and this movie. Being an adoptive mom and running into sites like this that are anti-adoption ( & seeing Mercy Mercy – I needed to find the positive again in the adoption process. I hope for a better world in which all children have good families; that corruption can be weeded out, as well as red tape. No kids should fall through the cracks & a strong system of support needs to be in place for bio families, adoptive families, and most importantly the kids. We all need to make the world a better place.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Yen’s Mom, it does seem that lately that the focus has been on the negatives of adoption. It’s almost as if it is no longer cool to be supportive of international adoption. I think the NYT reviewer went in the seeing Stuck with this attitude.

  14. Avatar Yen's Mom says:

    PS – I in no way think that the link I gave is not a valid site. All are entitled to their opinions and all of these stories need to be heard. Adoptees and bio families must have a voice too and be protected/supported.

  15. Avatar Emily says:

    Mia, I agree with you completely!

  16. My reaction to the NYTimes review was exactly the same. Frustrating when the reviewer focuses on what a film doesn’t do, instead of what it does. Craig made the movie he needed and wanted to make, which wasn’t the comprehensive overview of the history of international adoption, but one very particular segment of that story.

    Craig made an excellent point about the need to raise awareness. Thank you for calling that out. I also forget that not everyone is as immersed in the subject as we are, and watching the movie Stuck may help open their eyes. Only then, perhaps, can they begin to understand the urgency and gravity of the situation, and why Craig made his film.

    Great interview, Dawn!

  17. Avatar RS says:

    HI, Love your blog.

  18. Avatar MIA says:

    I think it is such a sad country we live in when abortion is promoted more on social media than adoption. There are many willing, loving caring couples out there who just want a child to love. The hurdles that need be endured to get to have a baby through adoption at times seem crazy. I do feel there is a lot of red tape and only the wealthier can adopt.

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