'Orphan' Film Adoption Fears Unfounded

In 2009, senators and congressmen joined adoption groups in protesting a horror film called 'Orphan', fearing it would lead to hatred of orphans and a drop in adoptions. A year later, was the concern fact or fiction?

About a year ago a group of adoption organizations expressed concern over the horror film Orphan, whose title character is (or, rather, appears to be) a homicidal orphan. They sent a letter of protest to the film's distributor, Warner Brothers, co-signed by leaders of nearly a dozen adoption and child-welfare groups. Some elected officials (three senators and three members of Congress) also joined in the chorus of outrage, worried about the damage the film would do to American society.

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute issued a statement that the "film will have the unintended effect of skewing public opinion against children awaiting families both in the United States and abroad... may impede recruitment efforts by feeding into the unconscious fears of potential foster and adoptive families that orphaned children are psychotic...." Dr. Jane Aronson, a pediatrician and CEO of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation, encouraged a boycott of the film and stated in an interview with NPR that "the concept of featuring a movie that uses the word ‘orphan' and the concept of the orphan as someone who is evil and demonic just simply perpetuates the stereotypes of what people think of the stranger. It's xenophobia in its worse form."

In a nutshell, the protesters were mostly concerned that couples considering adoption who saw the film would choose to remain childless out of fear that the child they adopt might someday try to kill them. This seemed like a bizarre claim to me. As I noted at the time, most theatergoers are able distinguish fiction from reality, and are unlikely to not adopt a child because of something they saw in a movie. (By the way, the "orphan" in the film is revealed at the end to be a dwarf, so what the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and the senators and congressmembers were really claiming is that potential adoptive parents who see the film may be deterred from adoption out of concern that the child they wish to adopt may actually be a serial-killing, baby-faced adult dwarf, just like in the movie.)

Furthermore, Orphan is not the first horror film of its type, and if fictional films about evil orphans actually caused the American public to shun adoptions or fear orphans, such an effect would surely have been noticed by now. Neither Dr. Aronson nor any adoption groups offered any evidence of this trend.

So here we are over a year later. Despite the letters of protest and threats of boycotts, Orphan was released on July 24, 2009. Were the concerns real, or was it all a publicity stunt, a spectacle of manufactured outrage to attract attention and get votes "protecting the children?"

I contacted several adoption organizations, and none were aware of any decline in adoptions since the film's release. Adoption expert Mardie Caldwell of Lifetime Adoption Center in Penn Valley, California, said that adoptions had increased over the past year: "the inquiries by women who are interested in placing a child for adoption at our facility, Lifetime Adoption Center has increased." In fact, she noted "Nationally, adoption typically trends up when economies go down."

It seems that all the concern and fear was unfounded. Orphan came and went, leaving the adoption industry apparently unharmed. The real damage may be to the reputations of the adoption agencies, elected officials, and experts who so badly misjudged the American public.