Somewhere Between (2011) is an emotional look at young women who walk the divide between two worlds. The film follows four teenagers, all of whom were adopted from China by American parents. Raised far from their homeland as average American girls, they must deal with a wide range of issues including their complicated sense of identity and struggles to be fully accepted (both among their peers, and on an internal level). This, the construction and search for identity, is what lies at the heart of this film. Each girl attempts to reconcile her past, present and future, to decide what it all means for her definition of self.
Filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton was inspired to make Somewhere Between when she decided to adopt a baby girl from China. Determined to set out and learn what it is like to grow up as an adopted racial minority in the United States, Goldstein Knowlton found four teenagers: Fang, Jenna, Haley and Ann, and asked them to share their stories. Each girl brings a different perspective to the table, which at times reflect the areas where they grew up (each girl is from a different region of the United States: California, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Pennsylvania) and their incredibly varied families.
Their gender plays a large role in their story. When the one-child policy came into effect in the late 1970’s, several thousands of children were abandoned overnight. The majority of these children were girls because the Chinese favoured male heirs. A great many of these children were thus adopted out all over the world. Programs, such as Global Girls, help these young women connect with each other and bond over their shared history.
The film is a frank look at the life of adopted Chinese American teenagers and is remarkably free from the filmmaker’s influence. Goldstein Knowlton respects each girl’s story, and other than occasionally asking a few probing questions, she remains silent. Fang, Jenna, Haley and Ann are each allowed to navigate their own path on the journey to discover and create their identity. Each girl has her own struggle and her own sources of grief. For instance, while abroad with the Global Girls program, a group of adoptees are asked if they mind being stared at in public alongside, their often times obviously, adoptive parents. While some say that looks from strangers aren’t a bother, and that people may just be curious, other girls find it incredibly irritating. In addition to this, we witness uncomfortable interactions at school and hear recollections of insensitive people they have come across, who ask blunt, inappropriate and often outright racist comments about the girls’ heritage.
Many of these girls retain a link to their homeland. Hailey and her mother send money to China, paying for the operations and welfare of many children in orphanages. Fang goes back to China at least once a year. On one of her trips back, she met a young girl living in an orphanage in need of aid. She and her family supported this little girl, and were instrumental in getting her adopted. Although their connection to China is individually different, each girl expresses a yearning to know more about their past or gain a connection to their birth country.
Somewhere Between presents each girl’s hopes and dreams, and thoughts regarding their past. Although the context of these stories is very particular, the stories are personal, and speak to everyday struggles of social and self-acceptance. What we end up with, is a film that is a sweet, and honest portrayal of four young women trying to find a place in the world.