"British-Chinese dual-identity and transracial adoption"
by Rachel Knightley for remotegoat on 08/04/16

Mentally insert dashes, and the title of Lucy Sheen’s documentary becomes a concise and thoughtful overview of the struggle experienced by her fellow Hong Kong foundlings after their transracial adoption to England in the 1950s and 1960s. Sheen’s strength in dialogue and experience as a playwright come across in well-chosen, eloquent talking-head portraits of the individuals who feel at home in their lives and those who do not. As a concept, this is five-star and more than deserves its audience. As a documentary, however, this does not achieve sufficient clarity of narrative or of purpose.

Adopted at a year old by an English family, Sheen’s sense of abandonment, not only by her birth parents but by her birth culture, pervaded a childhood characterized by visual as well as social ostracization. Sheen compares her experience with other women in the group (only one boy was transported with them – a point confirmed but not elaborated on at the Q&A), who are now in their 40s and 50s. Some have accepted rather than concealed their differences, and reconciled a sense of self both individually and as British-Chinese. Others find that looking different to the accent and family they grew up with means always feeling that difference.

If being submitted for television film festivals, it is surprising that a clearer summary of the circumstances that led to the adoptions is not given, as a general audience will require such reminders. On the other hand, if intended for a ‘home’ audience only, it remains unclear what point, lesson or call to action is being offered. A stage play succeeds by presenting the emotional landscape of a character in the context of their history; a documentary must make the history and context clear. The lack of distance, objectivity or structure made this feel more like a fainter version of Sheen’s play at the Royal Court than of a documentary with its own identity.

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