Matthew Lamers and Shannon Heit in the Korea Herald on the 2nd took a look at adoption in Korea and a Korean-American's new film.
Behind the glamour of adoption, new beginnings and happy reunions, there is another, darker side of loss and separation for birth mothers, birth families, and adoptees that is often left out of the discussion. Popular culture mostly fails to take up the issue from the perspective of the birth mother. What factors forced the decision to give up her child? Were there other options? How has she coped since?
Filmmaker Tammy Chu asks those questions, but also considers the feeling of separation from the side of the adoptee and the sometimes life-long journey to find identity and belonging.
Korea has long had a reputation for being a baby-exporting nation, though it's trying to change things by encouraging more domestic adoptions.
According to the Global Overseas Adoptees' Link, an adoptee-founded and run NGO, upwards of 200,000 children have been adopted internationally from Korea since the 1950s. But a more conservative estimate from the Korean Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family in 2002 put the number at 148,394. The ministry said that between 1995 and 2005, 78,000 came back to Korea to search for their families, accounting for 63 percent of the children who have been adopted abroad. Yet of those who have attempted to find their birth families, only 2.7 percent have been successful.
Korea's international adoption program continues, and according to government figures, 1,264 children were adopted from Korea in 2008.
"But it hasn't been talked about because I think that adoptees have just begun to speak out in the last few years about their experiences," she said. The media tend to leave out the fact that many adoptees are not actually orphans when they are adopted, and that they do have birth families somewhere. Chu believes that the Korean society as a whole has a collective sense of guilt for having sent so many children abroad.
Chu goes on to mention TV shows about reunions, particularly timely since we've just seen a new round of tearful family reunions between North and South Koreans. Her latest film "Resilience" will premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival, which runs from October 8th through 16th.
In the interviews she conducted for the movie, Chu said that mothers "had an immense sense of loss and regret and spoke non-stop about their children (that had been adopted abroad)."
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In particular, the film focuses on one birth mother, Noh Myunga, and her son, Brent Beesley.
In the winter of 1977 Noh had left her son with relatives while she left to find work. But when she returned, she found that her family had given him up for adoption. Several family members made the decision for her, she said, not thinking about the long-term consequences of what it's like for a woman to lose her child.
Chu felt their story would be particularly compelling for viewers and that the film would best be served by focusing on one story in more intimate detail.
Beesley, now 32, said his participation in the film allowed him to recover the long-lost bond with his birth mother.
"I am so thankful I got to be part of the movie ... it give me a chance to know a little bit more about my mom," said Beesley. "I hope this movie will bring some more attention to international adoption. There are so many things that can improve the whole process, and maybe this can be that little push to send things in the right direction."
The Herald article says the film will be shown twice, both with English and Korean subtitles, and following the first screening on the 11th at 1:00 pm, Chu will be available for a question-and-answer session. More information is available at the film's website and the official site of the film festival.