Adoption in Film

deadline for submissions: 
January 11, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Adoption & Culture
contact email: 

Title:    Adoption in Film

Adoption & Culture 9.2 [ 2021]

Adoption & Culture publishes essays on any aspect of adoption’s intersection with culture, including but not limited to scholarly examinations of adoption practice, law, art, literature, ethics, science, life experiences, film, or any other popular or academic representation of adoption. Adoption & Culture accepts submissions of previously unpublished essays for review.

Adoption & Culture is the journal of The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC). ASAC promotes understanding of the experience, institution, and cultural representation of domestic and transnational adoption and related practices such as fostering, assisted reproduction, LGBTQ+ families, and innovative kinship formations. ASAC considers adoptive kinship to include adoptees, first families, and adoptive kin. In its conferences, other gatherings, and publications ASAC provides a forum for discussion and knowledge creation about adoption and related topics through interdisciplinary, culture-based scholarly study and creative practice that consider many ways of perceiving, interpreting, and understanding adoption.

Adoption studies scholarship explores multiple aspects of adoption’s intersection with culture including, but not limited to, scholarly examinations of adoption practice, law, art, literature, ethics, science, life experiences, and film. Adoption scholars examine discourses of adoption in all its various ways, complicating the ways adoption engages with normative ideologies of identity, family, culture, race, gender, nation, and citizenship.

This special issue of Adoption & Culture will explore the portrayal of adoption in artistic or documentary film, emphasizing cinematic representations of individual, familial, or social ideations and experiences that constitute adoption as a discrete subject-making discourse. 

Successful proposals will illuminate how film – comprising artistic and historical forms—“puts adoption into discourse,” as Foucault writes [History of Sexuality (v. 1, 11)]: viz. how cinema portrays or embodies adoption as a regime whose “polymorphous techniques of power…reach the most tenuous and individual modes of behavior [and] access [even] scarcely perceivable forms of desire”—“those of refusal, blockage, and invalidation, but also incitement and intensification.”

In short, we wish to study how adoption appears in films that expand or exceed received discourses of adoptee belonging/exclusion, so that cinema no longer remains merely the ideological conduit of cultural prejudices but becomes a source of critical analysis.

While this issue will form dialogically, guided by authors’ projects, it aspires to curate discussion, informed by diverse philosophical and cinematic projects, of how adoption operates as a compelling and formative social practice. Treatments of hermeneutic or affective films that transcend personal experiences to access generalized significations of adoption will be welcome. The issue’s design presumes, and builds on rather than just reiterates, established anxieties about adoption prevalent in the field (e.g., fetishized origins, tragic emptiness, ambivalent searches, fascinating reunions). Affective grievances are invited within explorations of how film advances (intensifies, diminishes, shapes…) various shared systems of adoptive life.

This special issue will regard “film” as an expansive rubric comprising, inter alia:

  • fictional storytelling, such as in commercial movies and popular TV series;
  • nonfiction works, from documentaries to comedy sketches or stand-up shows;
  • moving images, such as filmed art exhibitions and travelogues;
  • unconventional expressive cinema, such as experimental drama.

In addition, this issue will define the “discourses,” “regimes,” and “representations” of adoption broadly to encompass not only texts that explicitly address adoption (Losing Isaiah, This Is Us, Lion, Three Identical Strangers, Closure) but also those that marginally reference it (Citizen Kane, Truman Show, Frankenstein, Pleasantville, A Separation) or implicitly relate to it by taking up the practices and principles that structure and realize adopted life. Our priority will be presenting and evaluating films that themselves intelligently study adoption or its surrounding conditions of possibility.

Sample questions and topics for the special issue on adoption in film (samples refer to single-film texts for simplicity, but essays may address more than one film): 

  • How does the film challenge orthodox perceptions of, or conventional “solutions” to, adoption?
  • How is family ideology presented in the film to portray evolving adoptee norms or experiences?
  • How does the film portray the “homelessness,” “nostalgia,” or “loss” of other political figures (refugees, outlaws, migrants, orphans) in a way that informs discourses of adoption?
  • How do the elements of cinema as a specifically compelling medium facilitate communication of the conditions of adoptee life? Or perhaps hinder it?
  • How does the film portray changes in technologies of reproduction (IVF, surrogacy, etc.) in ways that impact the familiar social or ethical significations of adoption?
  • How does the film deconstruct liberal solutions to biocentric ideology, such as open adoption, cultural pluralism, anti-essentialism, free communication, or universal love?
  • How does the film imagine adoptees as subjects of a regime, under, say, sovereign, disciplinary, or governmental power?
  • How does the film’s portrait of the partial or compromised social belonging of complex identities (single-parent, LGBTQ, neuro-diverse, etc.) complement or contrast with adoptee life?
  • How does the film conceive of adoptee interiority (desire, sensibility, fantasy)?  

Please note that this issue strongly invites projects from the widest range of texts, experiences, and perspectives, especially from voices of color, the global south, and all locations of gender, class, sexuality, and, of course, familial-adoptive identifications. Proposals will inform the substance and structure of this issue.


Proposals (max 500 words) should present a detailed, albeit provisional, argument that responds to a clearly stated question with a logical progression of claims and perhaps sketch of theories, references, motivations. An outline is encouraged but not required (not included in word count).     


11 Jan 2021                

Please send abstracts to guest editor, copied to general editor:

            Guest editor:                Sayres Rudy                (

            General editor:             Emily Hipchen            (

 11-18 Jan 2021

Guest editor will review abstracts, including potential requests for clarification or discussion of individual proposals in order to make fully-informed and fair decisions.

1 Feb 2021

Notification of selected and not selected proposals.

15 Apr 2021

Accepted penultimate drafts distributed for peer review.

14 June 2021

Final full-length essay ready for publication.