Brown Bread

Adoption stories usually focus on adoptive parents, birth parents, or adoptees, and a lot of time is spent on hearing narratives from the adoption triad to improve the adoption experience. But there is another voice that is just as important, and that is the voice of the non-adopted sibling. And in order to truly understand the scope of adoption, this voice must also feel welcome in the conversation.

Brown Bread is a film that seeks to be that voice. The documentary is directed by Sarah Gross and tells the story of her interracial adoptive family growing up in 1970s America. Sarah and her older brother James were born in 1964 and 1967 to Margot and Peter Gross. Having read an article about minorities being hard to place in adoptions, the couple decided to adopt. Daniel was adopted in 1970 at 6 months, and then Adam was adopted in 1972 at 6 weeks old. Daniel and Adam seemed to adapt to the family seamlessly, and Sarah and James were happy to have playmates.

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Daniel, Sarah, Adam, and James

A few years later, in 1977, Margot and Peter adopted Carl and Carla, siblings who came from a very dysfunctional and abusive foster home. Carl and Carla were 8 and 9 at the time, and all of a sudden the two became younger siblings to Sarah and James, but older siblings to Daniel and Adam. In the years that followed Carl and Carla’s adoption, the family was turned upside down, with each child trying to figure out their place in the family.

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Adam, Carl, Daniel, Sarah, and Carla

The documentary is mostly made up of interviews of the family members reflecting back on a  time that was filled with both laughter and pain. The interviews are honest and give a glimpse into a family trying to blend with each other and with the rest of the world. The film is a genuine look at what happens when families are created through adoption, and sometimes the results are not what you think. Watch the trailer for Brown Bread, and then read on for my interview with Sarah!

The title of the movie comes from your mother making homemade brown bread, and sending you to school with brown bread sandwiches when you longed to fit in with everyone else and have sandwiches made from store bought white bread. I can relate to those awkward teen years wanting to fit in and be “normal.” Did you have a group of friends who helped you through those years?

At the time of our last adoption, our family began going to the Unitarian Universalist Church, where over the years I was able to process some of the turbulent feelings I was experiencing and where I met many of my closest friends.  Quite a few from there had adopted themselves, or had mixed race families, or some other lifestyle choices which pushed them outside the “norm,” which meant we could all kind of relate to each other and support each other in our struggles.

Also, in the first years after the final adoption, we lived in Knoxville, Tennessee in a supportive and mixed-race community, where all of us had friends who looked like us (or didn’t) and it really didn’t matter so much.  Funnily enough, it was when we moved to California that the racial divisions of the outside world came to play an increasingly large role in our own individual developments.

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Margot and Peter with their six children

We often think of loss in adoption in terms of adoptees and birth families. But there can be loss for children who receive adopted siblings. Do you ever think of how your life would be different had your parents not adopted? Did you ever resent your parents or adopted siblings for taking that life away from you?

I guess every child imagines what life would have been like “if”…  (her parents hadn’t divorced, or Johnny hadn’t been born, or if her parents hadn’t adopted Suzy…)  But given our family situation, there wasn’t any room for this kind of question while we were growing up.    Since the adoptions in our family occurred in two stages, with the little ones Adam and Daniel being adopted as babies and within the space of two years — then Carl and Carla being adopted as much older children, I have occasionally found myself imagining what things would have been like without Carl and Carla being part of our family, but never without Adam and Daniel, because they are part of the origins of who we are.  But even thinking about not having adopted Carl and Carla is very painful for me.  Painful because I love them both and am who I am because of their joining us.  And painful because so many things would have been easier and perhaps better for us, especially for Daniel and Adam, without them.  Yet if they hadn’t come to us, Carl and Carla would have most likely grown up in a context of abuse, crime, and very few opportunities to develop themselves beyond all this.  How can you weigh such things? I never resented my siblings but sometimes my parents for forcing these mind- and heart-expanding experiences on us, yes.

You and your brother seemed to have accepted Adam and Daniel, who were adopted at 6 months and 6 weeks respectively, into your families quite easily. It was harder for you to accept Carl and Carla who were 8 and 9. Your brother said he wanted to escape from the fighting, yelling, and total chaos in the years that followed their adoption. Throughout those difficult years, did you parents ever seem to regret their decision to adopt?

My parents never let on that they regretted having adopted.  I don’t know that they did ever regret it.  It is not part of their psychological makeup to go back and wish things had been different.  I think the biggest issue was that my parents went into it thinking that enough love can make anything possible and now know it is just not so.  So rather than regretting the adoption, I think they perhaps regretted their inability to cope with and rise above the challenges.

It’s interesting to see the lifestyle choices that you and your siblings have made as adults. What prompted your move to Germany? How did your very nontraditional childhood shape some of your decisions as an adult? 

Since my mom was from England, we had always spent a lot of time over there visiting relatives.  I had been relatively good at languages at school and felt myself drawn to Europe.  During a gap year after high school I went and travelled extensively in Europe.  During college I spent a year studying in France.  It seemed only natural after finishing college to then apply for scholarships and find a way to return to Europe.  I received a scholarship to study in Berlin, found myself dating a wonderful German man I had met in the U.S. and ended up making a life for myself here in Germany, almost without planning it really.  But looking back of course I can imagine there was a subconscious desire to be far enough away from my family to get a little distance from the painful deconstruction we’d been going through those past ten or so years.

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The Gross family all grown up

Your documentary steered away from making any judgements about adoption, but let viewers form their own opinions. Having had first hand experience living in a transracial family, is there anything you could share that could help prospective families?

Having shared a lot of painful stories of growing up in our family, I wonder if this might dissuade prospective parents from adopting transracially.  But this is not at all my intent, on the contrary, I am really proud of our family.  Much of our experiences will never be repeated because a) children don’t get adopted out of chronological order any more and b) we had very little post-adoption support, which has also gotten much better since then as far as I know.  Race and class get so mixed up in our heads, and adopting any child at 8 or 9 years from abusive foster care in a deeply impoverished environment will be hard for a middle class family.   The issues of interracial adoption need to be seen separately, which have more to do with claiming identity and finding good supportive mixed-race communities and role models.

I am developing a multi-media project called The “Normal” Adoption Project, where we hope to inspire people all over who’ve been touched by adoption to tell their stories, thereby building a mosaic of what adoption means to us.  Creating mentor relationships between older families who adopted a long time ago and younger families just beginning the process would be a wonderful part of the “Normal” Adoption Project and could be a great help to both sides.  We welcome people to become involved by writing us at info@normaladoptionproject.com or visiting the website at www.normaladoptionproject.com

What’s next for the documentary? Where can people view the film? 

Brown Bread will be distributed in North America by Kino Lorber.  We will make the film available for community screenings for organizations such as churches, adoption networks, schools and colleges. DVD and streaming will also follow.

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To follow Sarah’s documentary and see upcoming screening dates, visit http://www.facebook.com/brownbreadthefilm

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American Seoul

Zeke Anders is a self described storyteller, filmmaker, director, and photographer. Zeke grew up in Detroit; his mother was a school teacher, his father owned his own casket distribution company. Growing up during the MTV music video era, Zeke was drawn to the high energy videos, and turned his attention to  filmmaking. While still in highschool, he  was recruited by Detroit Public Television to direct and produce segments and became “the youngest creative producer for the largest independent ad agency in the world.” Zeke later moved to LA and focused on writing and directing, winning numerous awards for his work, including top honors at Houston Worldfest, New York Festival, and the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

Zeke’s story sounds like the American dream: a boy with humble beginnings works hard, moves to LA ,and becomes pretty successful. But Zeke’s journey to success is even more remarkable when you find out he was found in an alleyway in Korea and spent the first three years of his life in an orphanage. With all of his filmmaking and directing experience, Zeke finally decided to turn the camera on himself and tell his story. He started a vlog series on Youtube titled American Seoul in which he shares his personal experience growing up as a Korean American adoptee in Detroit. Zeke’s story is fascinating, and his vlogs are thoughtful and powerful. Watch the first episode of Zeke’s vlog below and read on for our interview!

You mentioned in your first vlog that you were found on the street with no name or no identifying information like a birth certificate. What is your official birthday and who chose it?

Tracing my lineage is next to impossible making my personal history unknown. I was found on the streets, an alley, by the local authorities and taken to a Catholic orphanage. Where and when exactly is unknown. It may have actually been in the city of Busan… but have no evidence to support that idea – just a hunch because as a child, I remember hearing my parents mentioning that name.  Assuming that the orphanage had a doctor, it was that person who gave me my “official” birthdate of December 4th.  It’s probably an accurate estimation… although feasibly a few weeks off.

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What is the story of your name? Were you named in the orphanage or did parents name you when you were adopted?

I came into the orphanage without a name and so they assigned me a name temporary name (just for paperwork, etc.). My Korean name was Soo Kim Chang. However, once adopted, my parents renamed me.

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Left to right: Zeke’s aunt, mother, grandfather and father

You revealed in one of your early vlogs that you grew up an only child and your parents have passed away. What is your family unit? Are you close with relatives?

I don’t know why my parents did not have any biological children… perhaps they were unable or maybe it was by choice. As a result, I really enjoyed growing up as an only child. For me, it taught me independence, assertiveness and creativity among other things. My extended family is small. Growing up I spent 99% of holidays, summer vacations, etc. with my mother’s side of the family… mostly her sister and their father. I would visit cousins and extended relatives on occasion but not very often.

My mother passed away when I was in High School and my father passed away six years ago. He and I had become close since it was just the two of us and am tremendously grateful that I had the time I had with him. I’ve really only stayed connected to my aunt who continues to live in Michigan.

Funny enough, I am married to an ‘only-child’ who also has a very small family. We have two adopted black shelter cats and we pretty much just keep to ourselves! lol

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Have you ever gone back to South Korea? If not, do you have plans to?

I have never been back to South Korea and would like to very much. One day for sure. I remember as a child, my parents talking about taking a trip to Korea after my high school graduation – it was going to be this big event. During my teen years I was fortunate enough to have started traveling to different countries like, Mexico, Sweden, Estonia, etc.

My mother battled cancer through the majority of my childhood (Elementary through Jr. High) and finally passed away during the summer of entering my senior year. Obviously life took a different course. I absolutely love to travel and experiencing different cultures. S. Korea would definitely be a “homecoming” of sorts and I look forward to the day when that happens.

Do you think it’s easier to share details of your family life now that your parents are gone?

I don’t think sharing my story is any easier now that my parents are gone… in fact, it’s probably harder only because with my early history they would’ve been helpful filling in the details making the vlogs a little more complete.

I’m proud to share my story and family to you. They were wonderful, loving parents and honorable people who always put others before themselves. They always supported my interests… it was in High School where I got the bug to become a filmmaker and they were behind me 100%. Even after my mother passed, my father continued to support my career path and I know they would both be pleased with the vlog series and its success.

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Zeke and his mother

What was your motivation for sharing your adoption story and starting your vlog? What do you hope to accomplish?

I don’t even really remember giving this idea much thought, I just remember doing it. As a freelance director I was in-between jobs and never like sitting still so I thought what type of project can I do that is quick and simple? A vlog!

Throughout the years whenever people would discover I’m adopted, they were always amazed by my circumstances. So much so I would often joke about it. The idea for the vlog series just clicked. I set out to make the vlogs intimate and straightforward – no frills, no fancy editing. Black & White seemed like a great visual style while leaving all the archival photos/footage in color.

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Hard at work

What’s next for you? You are clearly a talented and accomplished filmmaker. Do you have any other adoption related projects in the works?

This is just the beginning! I’m developing a longer format television/doc series, of the same name [American Seoul] where I interview fellow Korean/American adoptees, their family/friends across the country and have them share their stories and experiences. I’ve realized by sharing mine and having so many people reach out to me that a lot of our stories are very similar and yet so different. It’s an interesting ‘character’ study on the effects of adoption and just how each of us have grown to become integrated in American society and yet, for some feel quite disconnected. Some feel they’re not Korean enough to be accepted as their own and yet, they’re not “American” because of their physical appearance. Another issue is the self-identity crisis every adoptee goes through… not only as a teen but even in adult life.

I’m currently writing a feature-length screenplay about a young Korean/American adoptee who travels back to Seoul to find his biological parents. While there, he befriends an older American tourist on a very different journey. Each discovers they need each other to find what they’re looking for.

I also just completed a TEDTalk-type lecture+curation for the Detroit Institute of Arts on the art of the vlog, truly the first of its kind.  My show, “Vlogzilla”, delves into defining a vlog, why people vlog and can it truly be an art form?  I curate more than 100 vlogs from around the world and finished the evening by screening “American Seoul”.  The presentation was a success!

I continue to freelance as a director/filmmaker working for ad agencies and corporations directing their branded content videos/commercials and ads.

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To see more of Zeke’s work, visit www.zekeanders.com

You Have His Eyes

You Have His Eyes is a gripping documentary from filmmaker Christopher Wilson. In the film, Chris, a transracial adoptee, documents his search for his father. Chris has already found and met his birth mother, but he is curious about his father’s identity and whereabouts. When he begins his search, all Chris has is a grainy passport picture of his father, a few stories from his birth mother, and a determination to find the man who shares his features.

The documentary begins in South Florida and ends in Jamaica, but it is the stops in between that reveal the complexity Chris’ family – something many of us can relate to. As Chris continues to search, he begins to unveil family secrets that bring him one step closer to his father. The footage is raw, and there are several scenes that will give you goosebumps. In the end, Chris finds answers to some of his questions, but he also understands that his identity is not based on the actions or choices of someone else.

Watch the trailer below and then read on for our interview!

What was the motivation for making a documentary? Did you have any filmmaking experience before you started this project?

 My motivation for everything stems from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Right before this project came to fruition, I was saved. God freed me up to pursue my dreams and find myself. So after I accepted him into my life, I decided to begin to chase my dreams, and one of them was to be a filmmaker. I love film but had very little experience behind the camera myself. I just felt I had an eye for it and enough passion to see a project through. We were searching for stories, going back in forth with an investor on the best possible story to document. Everyone we encountered kept saying, “You know there might be something with your own story, and the issue of adoption in general”. So then we thought, “What would be the angle? What are you most interested in telling or finding out about yourself?” “Well, I would love to know about my father,” I thought…so we said, “Let’s make a film that documents the search for him”.

We began with retracing our steps and turning the cameras on my family, myself, and my birth mother, whom I had just recently met and started a relationship with. As soon as we turned the cameras on my family…BOOM! All these very revealing stories started to boil to the surface.  All of sudden I realized I was literally pursuing my dream, a film career, and finding myself and my roots all in one project! God has a way of working everything out perfectly and sometimes all at once. Something He never let me lose sight of throughout this process. We realized right away we had a film about adoption, yes, a film about a search, yes..but in truth we had film about family. Which pleased me greatly. Because everyone can relate to a story about family.

From start to finish, how long did it take to complete the documentary?

 The film took 2.5 years from planning, to the start, to its finish. Most of that time was spent searching. The rest was spent comprising and editing the footage. This film was not documented in a typical way, we didn’t want to go in with a manufactured story or limit ourselves by filming only what we set out to capture, so we literally just shot everything and said we will deal with the footage at the end. So that was hard to narrow down a good cut of the film having shot so much footage. We wanted to give everyone a chance to tell their part of the story. I pray we were successful.

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When you met your birth mother, she said that she would not recommend adoption. How do you feel about adoption?

 My birthmother was speaking from the heart when she made that comment. She wasn’t saying that adoption was a bad thing, she was saying that adoption is a hard thing to go through. Gut wrenching. We need that kind of honesty when talking about adoption. Sometimes people are afraid of saying something bad, even when you are truly in favor of the process. She was also speaking to the fact that her own personal experience was not ideal, having been promised by the adoption agency that she was going to be able to remain in some sort of communication with me and my family. Then the agency was shut down for selling children illegally and all communication from that point abruptly stopped. After she made that comment she prefaced with saying it was for those reasons mostly she could not recommend it to anyone, while at the same time saying it was the BEST decision given to her at the time. Adoption like everything in life is not cut and dry, often times it is nuanced and falls into that gray area.  She is fully thankful to my family. My adoption gave two people the chance at a productive life, whereas together our outlook did not seem as promising.

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Chris’ birthmother

 On your journey to find your father, you learned of family you never knew existed. You also learned of your mother’s sexual abuse by her father (your biological grandfather), as well as physical and mental disorders in your family. Do you ever regret finding out this information, or in other words, is ignorance sometimes bliss?

What happened to my biological parents allowed me to see them as strong individuals who persevered. It made me reflect and be truly grateful for my own life. As for myself…I was never concerned about what I found out…because I had God. My faith. I live under the understanding that my life has been laid out for me, and He has walked my steps. So whatever comes my way was intended. However, I am fully aware that most people do not see life through this prism. Especially some of the immediate family and friends around me. So I could feel them becoming very concerned for me as I dug deeper into the dormant truths within my family.

I love my biological Grandfather despite his shortcomings. I cannot judge anyone. I try not to. I just want to offer my love to everyone because that was all I received as a child, unconditional love. Mental disorders can often times be spurred by circumstances, and my life has been nothing but blissful. So I was never concerned for my own mental health either. What bothered me most is when I see or feel someone pity or feel worried on my behalf; it makes me feel for them. I don’t want them to be concerned over something I have no concern over myself.

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 Speaking of mental disorders, how did filming the documentary challenge your views of mental health?

 The issue of mental health shows up in our film in a very dramatic and intense way. I never anticipated anything like this. I really can’t speak to this issue by medical terms. I do not see things in that way. In today’s very financially driven medical field, almost everyone can be categorized with a mental disorder.  As we were investigating what happened to my biological father, very early on reports started to come in that he had suffered a breakdown of some sort and was given medication, was misdiagnosed by doctors, and this medication caused him to snap….and he abruptly disappeared.

 I think we need to evaluate how we treat individuals who have a different outlook and perspective on life. We are all unique and sometimes when society tries to change that in a person, the results can be negative and often detrimental. It takes a very special person to dedicate themselves to a craft so intensely that they become the best in a nation, as my birth father did with his track career. I am proud of him and his accomplishments.

 What is the best thing to come out of this experience? What advice do you have for any adoptee who is considering searching for their family?

 The best part of the whole experience was living my dream of being a filmmaker and exercising my faith into action and connecting with my extended family. It’s hard to speak on behalf or for other adoptees because each story is so unique. So I am only speaking for myself in this moment. My advice? Seek God. Seek him first and all the other pieces will fall right into place. That is a true statement for anything.  If you are searching for something from someone don’t search yet. No one owes anyone anything. I know that can seem like an insensitive statement. But it is a truth.

 Everything you need can be found within yourself. Any answer you want can be given to you by God. All you have to do is listen to Him.  I was blessed. I was very content with my family. I wasn’t looking for another. I remember friends being more interested in my biological parents then I was. But I did have the whispers of normal curiosity, “What do they look like?” “What career paths did they choose?”  Things like that. All I ever needed was provided from my adoptive family: unconditional love. So it was easy to be content with my life.

 What is the next step for you and the documentary? Where can people purchase or download the film?

 Right after finishing the film we received our first two official selections. Our film had a big premiere June 28th in Boston as part of Roxbury International Film Festival. As we seek distribution for the documentary, we will be touring festivals and screening all over the United States and International Markets. We can’t wait to release the film worldwide. We feel this story, which is about adoption, which is about a search, but ultimately it is a story about family, which is a story everyone can relate to. For now you can follow us on our Facebook page and on our official film website for the latest updates and screening listings.

At the time of publication, You Have His Eyes has won the Audience Award at the Kingston New York Film Festival, the Best Director of a Documentary and Best Documentary Feature at the Chain New York City Film Festival, and Best of Festival at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival.

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Christopher Wilson is a filmmaker, writer, actor, and model,  and he is currently working on a short film with his production compony, CTW Productions. He is also the CEO of 7one, an organization devoted to empowering people to follow their dreams. Wilson currently resides in South Florida.