Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Martian Child – a Response

I’ve got over 80 movies lined up on my Netflix list now, and that means when a movie finally comes and I watch it, I commonly have no idea what prompted me to sign up for it. That’s no matter, since I like being surprised at what comes on the screen. It’s sort of like the old days, when you turned on the TV for a “late night movie” and took what you got.

Nowadays people, me included, usually want to select carefully. “I have only so much time…” Well, with the thousands available – it’s up to something like 80,000 choices now on Netflix, if I’m not mistaken – it does make good sense to filter out the junk. God knows there’s tons of junk. But the other side of that coin is that it’s easy to go whole hog on a limited selection and cut yourself off all that much more from the big world out there. We already live in closed circles of friends and neighborhoods divided by class; we are fussy about food and entertainment and our news sources tell us what we want to hear. Unfiltered intake is for slobs.

If I had known what the film that crossed my path last night was about, I might not have rented it. It's got to have been made by the handkerchief and soft tissue lobby. One of those puppy dog and too cute for words little tyke movies where you’re supposed to be swept up by a desire to hug and protect and feel all warm about the heart when it’s done. Go to bed feeling God’s in his heaven and all.

It sounds like I’m joining the 75% or so of Rotten Tomatoes critics who trashed The Martian Child – for being a saccharine yadayada like I just said. But I’m not. I love that shit. I love being suckered by kids and falling in love with daddies who love their kids. And I love the melodrama of the Simon Legrees these films always have – the bureaucrat who impedes the adoption, the teacher who wants discipline über alles, the social worker who ‘just has a job to do.’ I love watching them all go down in flames as can-you-believe-those-eyes finally comes around and says, “I love you daddy” and love conquers all.

Man, it’s better than sex.

So that’s it. That’s my review. The Martian Child has John Cusack and his sister Joan playing brother and sister, which is kind of fun. And Amanda Peet, for you guys what likes pretty girls. And Richard Schiff for you West Wing fanatics. (Oliver Platt, too, come to think of it.) And of course, first-timer child actor Bobby Coleman, who plays a kid so freaked from having been abandoned that he believes he is a Martian and is seriously in need of watering. There's where John Cusack, playing David Gerrold (renamed David Gordon) comes in. He has lost his wife (wasn't joking about the handkerchiefs) and has love going to waste. And, best of all, he's a science-fiction writer and knows how to deal with Martians.

OK, so much for the happy happy joy joy. Now let me tell you what really pissed me off.

What really pissed me off was the discovery that this sort-of-true story, based on the book by the same name by David Gerrold, is the story of a gay man. And if you know anything about adoption, you know that gays have a habit of taking in kids nobody else will take in.

They didn't change much else. Why, I want to know, did they have to turn David Gerrold into a straight man? So they could find a way to put old friend/new love interest Amanda Peet in the movie? What, you can’t cry for daddy and little boy stories without a maybe mommy-to-be? The real David, from looking at the real Martian child all grown up, seems to have done all right as a single parent. What was gained by erasing the accomplishment? Or the fact that it wasn't his wife who died and left a hole in his heart, but his lover, whom somebody shot in the face.

I loved John Cusack in this movie. His good acting kept this honey on sugar cubes from making you sick. Was it that the filmmakers realized their audience was a PG audience and thought you can't have PG and gay in the same film?

What is it? Fear that the audience “isn’t ready?”

Cusack says (or possibly it was the director) that he hopes what might come out of the movie is the recognition that there are thousands more kids caught in foster kid programs than there are people to take them in. The Martian child was one of the lucky ones. If you really want to get serious about getting these kids out of foster care and into good homes, then get the message out that the job is currently being done to an unusually high degree by gay dads. (Even more by gay moms, but that's another story.)

In fact, consider these facts from the non-gay non-partisan Urban Institute:
  • More than one in three lesbians have given birth and one in six gay men have fathered or adopted a child.
  • More than half of gay men and 41 percent of lesbians want to have a child.
  • An estimated two million GLB people are interested in adopting.
  • An estimated 65,500 adopted children are living with a lesbian or gay parent.
  • More than 16,000 adopted children are living with lesbian and gay parents in California, the highest number among the states.
  • Gay and lesbian parents are raising four percent of all adopted children in the United States.
  • An estimated 14,100 foster children are living with lesbian or gay parents.
  • Gay and lesbian parents are raising three percent of foster children in the United States.

Meanwhile, three states, as well as a number of religious organizations like the Catholic Church, have a ban on gay adoptions. Religious bias comes with a financial cost. If there were a national ban on gays and lesbians adopting kids, foster care could cost from $87 to $130 million more than it does, and costs to individual states could range from $100,000 to $27 million.

The real cost, of course would be that even more kids would be added to the 100,000 now looking in vain for a family to love them as their own.

If the makers of The Martian Child wanted to avoid this topic because it was too political, they might have thought a bit more before making this choice. It’s one of those issues where choosing not to engage is every bit as political as choosing to engage.

One little bit of trivia here, to end on. The man who adopted the throwaway kid and wrote the book about his experience, this David Gerrold fellow? He’s the science fiction writer who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles" for Star Trek – the most widely viewed episode in its long history.

Man, I’ll bet a whole bunch of kids wouldn’t have minded having him for a daddy.

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