Justin Chon’s ‘Blue Bayou’ faces backlash after accusations of exploiting adoptee story

A new film about an adoptee facing deportation is rebuffed by some Asian American adoptee groups and advocates who say it exploits the trauma of a community member, and it has also raised questions about the production of ethical films.

Many in the adoptee community have spoken out against “Blue Bayou,” a film by director Justin Chon, after Adam Crapser, a Korean adoptee who was deported in 2016, said in a statement last week that the film appropriated his story without his consent. Crapser, perhaps the most high-profile case of adoptee deportation, also told NBC Asian America that he was never involved in the process of making the film, although there are many elements of his own story. looked a lot like plot points from the movie.

Hundreds of activists have since signed a petition, including members of Adopted for Justice, a transnational nonprofit group in which Crapser is involved, calling for a boycott of the film. “Blue Bayou” highlights how many adoptees could be deported because they were never naturalized. Legislation passed in 2001 ensures that all adopted children and any newly adopted will automatically obtain citizenship. But people over the age of 18 when the law was enacted were not covered.

“People who have been through difficult things deserve the dignity of telling their story when and if they are ready,” Crapser said in a statement. . I ask Justin and his team to stop using other people’s trauma to support his Hollywood ambitions and my friends to tell the truth about this movie. “

Crapser said there was still a way forward, adding that he would like Chon to apologize and work with Adoptees for Justice.

South Korean adopted Adam Crapser in an interview in Seoul, South Korea, in 2019.Ahn Young-joon / AP file

“If he wants to have a conversation with me, great,” Crapser said. “I don’t hate Justin.… I feel personally raped and attacked because he and his producer made me feel like they could sympathize with what I was actually going through.

Some of the parallels between Crapser’s life and the film’s main character, Antonio LeBlanc, include their age at adoption and having a pregnant partner who meets the immigration and customs agency and an abusive adoptive father. .

Focus Features, the studio that produced the film, provided a statement from Adoptee Advocacy, a newly formed group that consulted during production on issues related to adoption. The statement did not name Crapser, but said they “saw strong similarities to many of our stories: abusive families, getting into trouble with the law, being kicked out while leaving young children behind.”

The group also calls the boycott a “devastating punch for us.”

“We see ‘Blue Bayou’ as a chance to shed light on the injustice we have suffered, but it is our own community that is now inflicting another injustice on us,” the statement said. “We were abandoned by our country, and now we are abandoned by people we thought were our brothers and sisters. “

Justin Chon arrives at the “Blue Bayou” premiere in Los Angeles on September 14, 2021.Richard Shotwell / AP

Chon, who is not an adoptee and also stars in the film, said in a statement Monday that he involved 13 adoptees, as well as a Korean-American immigration lawyer, in the process of making the film. movie. “Every draft” of the film has been shared with the adopted “principals”, he said. Chon also didn’t name Crapser, writing that the movie “isn’t about one person.”

“I understand that much of the life of many adoptees has been without choice. The choice of where they would live, the choice of who their adoptive parents were, sometimes even the timing or even IF they wanted to search for their biological parents, ”Chon wrote. “It’s NOT my story and I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be an adoptee. I made this film because I became aware of an inhumane politics that needs attention. I hope this film can continue to raise awareness among affected adoptees in this country. “

Crapser gained national attention years ago when he tried to fight his deportation case. He was adopted from South Korea by American parents at the age of 3, and his parents abandoned him and his older sister seven years later. The siblings were then separated in the foster care system. He was eventually adopted for the second time by Thomas and Dolly Crapser, who abused him and kicked him out of the house over an argument over the use of the phone. The adoptee was convicted of burglary after breaking into his parents’ home in an attempt to recover some of his property in Korea. He was subsequently convicted of several other offenses, but eventually managed to establish a stable life. (Crapser’s parents were convicted of several counts of criminal abuse and assault. His father was also convicted of one count of sexual abuse.)

It wasn’t until Crapser applied for a renewal of his green card that federal officials were made aware of his past infractions, triggering a legal battle to stay in the country. Crapser has since sued South Korea and Holt Children’s Services, a private adoption agency, charging them with gross negligence for the way he and thousands of Korean children were adopted regardless of their future citizenship.

Crapser said Chon contacted him in 2017 via Facebook. In messages viewed by NBC Asian America, Chon indicated that he had read articles about the life of Crapser and, moved by what he saw, was interested in hearing more. (Chon confirmed that he contacted Crasper.)

“I feel like everyone in America should know what happened to you because it’s ridiculous,” Chon’s post read.

Crapser responded, offering to put Chon in touch with actor Daniel Dae Kim, who had previously approached him about the matter. Crapser never received a response, he said.

Years later, Crapser said he received a message from Chon’s production team asking for personal photos to be shown at the end of the film, including one with his adoptive parents, which had been widely reported as abusive.

Crapser said he told the team he was not interested in the project and did not consent to his image being used in the film.

“I was not going to allow them to exploit me in this way by asking me for pictures with my foster parents, which he never suffered at this level of abuse,” Crapser said.

Crapser’s image was not used in the film.

“If Justin had contacted me personally and we had been able to have some sort of talk about it, I think some valuable information could have been taken from this movie,” Crapser said.

Becky Belcore, executive director of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium and an advisory board member for its Adoptees for Justice (A4J) project, said her organization decided not to support the film due to Crapser’s experience with it. the “Blue Bayou” team. Focus Features approached the group for comment last year.

“If you’re interested in making a movie about a particular experience, or people who have a particular identity, then you should talk to them about how they think it should be done,” Belcore said.

In its response to the Adoptee Advocacy statement on Monday, A4J also requested that Chon meet Crapser and that all proceeds from the film go to adoptees without citizenship. A4J also called on the film to include information about the citizenship law passed in 2021, which would automatically grant citizenship to anyone born outside the country who is adopted by a U.S. citizen, regardless of when adoption has been finalized. The film has been criticized for its lack of a call to action and currently makes no mention of the legislation.

Lee Shorten, an Australian-Korean adoptee known for his roles in “The Terror” and “The Man in the High Castle,” said he believes that while the film will raise awareness, it is a missed opportunity to appeal to action and show how broken the criminal justice and immigration systems are.

He said that with few stories highlighting the problems of Asian Americans in Hollywood, the “burden of portrayal is so heavy.” But Shorten said he thinks making representative films responsibly isn’t that difficult.

“If you tell a story about a community and you really want to represent it… then it’s simple. You can decentralize, you can include members of that community in a meaningful and transparent way, ”Shorten said. “In this film, Justin is the writer, the actor and the director, so there are three key points of the film. There were plenty of opportunities for him to get off center.

Crapser called on Chon to put more effort and sensitivity into his cinema. Even though Chon has spoken at length about his research process and the respect for the community he aims to portray in his cinema, Crapser said that was insufficient.

“It’s not judgment of me to say, ‘Hey man, everything you say is a lie,’” Crapser said. It means, ‘Hey, I don’t think you’re putting enough thought or research energy into this. “”

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