A nervous kind of eagerness fills the Google Hangout. All of a sudden, a girl pops up on the screen, her eyes flickering back and forth. Another girl pops up on the screen, and then another. There’s a bit of an unsure start, but as the girls start laughing and conversing, it’s evident that their similarities are what tie them together.
We’re introduced to Found, a documentary directed by Amanda Lipitz, with some background context first: that China’s one-child policy caused a large number of Chinese children, girls in particular, to be given up for adoption. These girls grew up in many different parts of the world, and their different experiences are a testament to the transnational nature of adoption. This is the subject of Found, which follows the stories of three adopted girls who travel to China to discover where they come from.
One of them is Chloe, who lives with her adoptive parents in Israel. She expresses that she wants to learn more about the Chinese side of her heritage, specifically through Mandarin classes. Through some family and DNA investigative work, the three subjects — Chloe, Sadie, and Lily — find out that they’re all related by blood. In fact, they’re cousins.
After this discovery, they begin online conversations that later transition to in-person ones. All share the common interest of wanting to find out who they are beyond what they’ve grown up with.
By beginning with the girls’ everyday lives, the documentary is able to examine what it means to belong on racial and multigenerational levels. At one moment, Sadie listens as her adoptive mother tells her about her grandparents’ side of the family. It’s obvious, however, that seeing people who don’t look like you doesn’t resonate much with Sadie, who says that she doesn’t feel connected to them because they have no blood connection. But she’s also quick to say that being an adoptee isn’t her identity; she’s much more than just a Chinese person who doesn’t know Mandarin. She just describes herself as an American.
It’s heartening to see all of these girls reflect on and develop a racial consciousness of who they are in the places they’ve grown up. All of them narrate their experiences growing up adopted. While there’s parallels in all of them, it’s the personal, distinctive touches that define the documentary as more than simply an adoption story.
Lily, for example, struggles with the appearance of her jaw, a physical reminder of her parents that she simultaneously feels insecure and emotional about. Chloe speaks about her Jewish identity being invalidated because she’s Asian, proclaiming that she’s a “Jewish Asian.” There’s all these great explorations into the complexities of each girl’s life, rather than dismissing them as all merely struggling with belonging.
The investigative work comes a bit later than expected, but it’s exciting and suspenseful nonetheless. It’s difficult not to root for Sadie and Lily to find their birth parents, and it’s also easy to see why Chloe doesn’t want to deal with the questions that arise. As Liu, the genealogy researcher assisting the girls in their search, encounters the different families that might be the girls’ birth parents, we also get to hear the stories of parents that had to give up their children. It’s a really meaningful exploration of other perspectives, particularly with the inclusion of Liu’s own background — how her family almost gave her up for adoption — which adds some dimension to Liu’s motives and the concept of family.
The documentary doesn’t quite engage with the reasoning behind China’s one-child policy, which might have nuanced Found and provided some greater complexity to its context. Despite this, Lipitz manages to ground the girls’ stories in the impact of that policy, making sure that it’s not about the politics but about the perspectives involved.
The cousins’ trip to China occupies only a brief segment of the documentary, but ends up being the most memorable part. Accompanied by Liu, Chloe, Sadie, and Lily travel to the places that they were left at as babies and orphanages where they grew up. One moment has Lily visiting one of her former potential families. The much-anticipated meeting is a moving one for every person involved, especially those watching.
After their return from China, Sadie recites from an essay she wrote. She concludes that unlike the fairy tale endings she grew up reading, she didn’t really need one or to search for something that was out there. She already knew where she belonged. It’s a nice note to wrap up the story, as the audience is able to dwell on the specificity of Sadie’s narrative. As Sadie tells us, maybe it wasn’t about the constant search for something at all. It was about knowing that you were already found.