While some documentaries and films have looked at the downside of adoption from East Asia, Netflix’s “Found,” looks at three happy and well-loved girls who were adopted from mainland China as they meet and then take a trip to China to learn more about themselves.
In the beginning, curiosity led Chloe Rose (Lipitz) to enroll in 23andMe. Chloe was living in Jerusalem, Israel and found a blood cousin residing in Nashville, Sadie (Mangelsdorf). Both were adopted in the Guangdong province. They snap-chatted for a while before they met Lily, who lives in Oklahoma City, OK.
Lily (Bolka) has always known she was adopted because her mother had books like “When You Were Born in China.” Lily has a jutting jaw, one that will be surgically corrected in the first half of the documentary. The jaw is a hereditary issue and Chloe already noted that on medical forms, they skip pages of questions about their families’ medical issues.
The threesome decide to join a cultural tour together and meet Liu Hao, a My China Roots research officer. Hao is delighted because these are the first girls who came from her hometown in Western Guangdong, but she also has a painful story related to the Chinese One-Child Policy. We come to understand the policy through many different eyes, including the caretakers at HuaZhou City Orphanage. One of the caretakers, Li Lan, took care of Chloe for the first year and a half of her life, went to school and worked as a nanny. She is now the director of the orphanage. At the peak time (2001), the orphanage was handling 200 babies. Still Li Lan remembers that Chloe didn’t cry except when she was vaccinated.
Lily meets Yang Mudi. When there were too many kids at the orphanage, the babies were taken home. Yang Mudi had as many as ten and remembers her as a mischievous girl that had a nickname.
There is love and heartbreak on both sides. The documentary also shows a rural couple who had hoped they were a match but were not and there is a match that Liu finds. Liu says, “When you know your family history, when you know where you come from, you can find peace in your heart.”
Director Amanda Lipitz has a light and sensitive touch. She allows the girls to describe their feelings and she steps back so we can witness their experiences. This is the other side of the 2019 documentary, “One Child Nation” directed by Nanfu Wang.
“One Child Nation” is both personal and political. The one-child policy began in 1979 and by 1982 it was written into China’s Constitution. (China began to allow overseas adoption in 1992.) The policy officially ended in 2015.
On the day China’s one-child policy ended, the Communist Party of China accounted the one-child policy has made the country more powerful, the people more prosperous, and the world more peaceful.
“One Child Nation” begins with marching uniformed armies, cheering crowds and a reminder of what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Wang was born in 1985 which was a time that the population of China was a hot topic in China and in the US. Wang shows us the deluge of propaganda and with the birth of her child, she began to wonder about the repercussions of a one-child policy.
Wang narrates and notes that her name means “man” and “pillar.” She says, “Becoming a mother was like giving birth to memories.” She goes back to Jiangxi province and remembers that other kids had no siblings, but her parents had two children. Wang has a younger brother (1990). She interviews the man who enforced the policy and tried to coerce Wang’s mother to be sterilized (notice it is the mother and not the father).
We were rural village officials. We had to follow the chain of command. Insubordination was not tolerated.
One of the midwives recounts 50K to 60K sterilizations and abortions. She says, “I counted this out of guilt.” She now treats people with infertility problems. Wang found a human trafficker (Yueneng Duan), who tells her he used to sell babies for $200 to orphanages. But what was the alternative?
I remember when I was around 17 or 18, I’d bike around town. I’d see four or five abandoned babies along the way….I just watched them die.
Wang also touches on DNA collection. You understand that so many people suffered. The trauma that must reverberate throughout the mainland Chinese society.
While in “One Child Nation,” not every child lived nor found a happy ending, happy endings are offered by “Found” and the Kelly Marie Tran produced “Lily Topples the World” about an adoptee who became a world famous domino artist. Together, the three documentaries (along with the fictional feature film “Blue Bayou” about the deportation of a Korean male adoptee) offer different aspects of the US adoptions from East Asia for a fuller understanding of what happened and is happening and what it means for contemporary Asian Americans.
“Found” is director Amanda Lipitz’s second documentary. It made its world premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival on 9 October 2021. It was released on Netflix on 20 October 2021.
“One Child Nation” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.