In profiling Chinese adoptees in contemporary America, Linda Goldstein Knowlton (THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SESAME STREET) has created a deeply moving documentary illustrating that even the most specific of experiences can be universally relatable. Of the roughly 80,000 girls who have been adopted from China since 1989—a decade after China implemented its One Child Policy—the film intimately follows four teenagers: Haley, Jenna, Ann, and Fang. These four wise-beyond-their-years, yet typical American teens, reveal a heartbreaking sense of self-awareness as they attempt to answer the uniquely human question, “Who am I?” They meet and bond with other adoptees, some journey back to China to reconnect with the culture, and some reach out to the orphaned girls left behind. In their own ways, all attempt to make sense of their complex identities. Issues of belonging, race, and gender are brought to life through these articulate subjects, who approach life with honesty and open hearts.
Four baby girls are born in China to families who are unable to keep them, largely because of China’s “One Child Policy.” Instead of being raised by their biological parents, the baby girls are raised in orphanages, and then eventually adopted by American families to be whisked halfway around the world to the United States. There, they grow up with Sesame Street, hip-hop, and Twitter. They describe themselves as “bananas”: white on the inside and yellow on the outside. All is well, until they hit their teen years, when their pasts pull at them, and they begin to wonder, “Who am I?”
All four know they were probably “given up” because they were girls (they are understandably uncomfortable with the word “abandoned”), and grapple with issues of race, gender, and identity more acutely than most their age.
Documentaries have been made before about international adoption, but they have always been from the point of view of the adoptive, Caucasian parents, or the adult adoptee. Young women’s voices are rarely heard—especially young women of color. SOMEWHERE BETWEEN lets four teenaged girls—Fang, Haley, Ann, and Jenna—tell their own stories, letting the film unfold from their points of view and shedding light on their deepest thoughts: about their families, their feelings of being “other,” and their powerful connections to a past that most of them cannot recall.
The film captures nearly three years in the lives of these four dynamic young women. The emotional journey took the film crew across America where they documented the girls in their hometowns, facing racism and struggling with stereotypes. Their journeys were also documented as they traveled to Europe to meet other transracial adoptees and back to China, where they witnessed China’s gender gap resulting from its One Child Policy.
The film also witnesses their emotional coming-of-age. As the girls discover who they are, viewers—no matter their color, gender, or culture—will find themselves exploring their own sense of identity and their feelings about family and belonging. Through their experiences, we will also see our still-prevalent cultural disconnects around stereotyping and race.
As SOMEWHERE BETWEEN plunges the viewer into the ordinary and extraordinary days of these four girls lives, we, too, are forced to pause and consider who we are—both as individuals and as a nation of immigrants.