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Adopting Difference: Race, Sex, and the Archaeology of Power in the Farrow-Allen Case

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Among the elements of the Mia Farrow-Woody Allen story that have gone almost entirely unexamined is Mia Farrow’s status as a serial adopter of several children, many of them from foreign countries and often with physical needs.  That aspect of the case has largely been ignored, except in passing and often, in the case of Farrow's supporters, to point to her as an exceptional mother and humanitarian.  In some instances, writers will ignore the issues around Farrow’s frenetic adoptions, even or perhaps precisely because they contradict their points.

Kathleen Geier’s op-ed in Washington Monthly considers Robert Weide’s defense of Allen, and criticises him for a “gullible belief that rich and powerful people would never be allowed to adopt if there were any doubts whatsoever that they’d ever committed abuse…” She goes on to cite a “stunning exposé” that shows “how completely underregulated adoption agencies are…”


Geire is absolutely right, of course.  Transnational adoption agencies are especially notorious for unethical adoption practices, which range from shoddy record-keeping to outright kidnapping, and a wilful disregard for the lives of the children they corall and parcel out to desperate parents willing to pay thousands and thousands for the chance to adopt.


But Geire ignores a crucial fact: Mia Farrow has been among those powerful people who used her influence to change an adoption law to her advantage. Anthony Shiu points out that in 1977, Farrow wanted to adopt the child who would be known as Soon-Yi Previn, but  federal law prohibited more than two adoption visas per family, and Farrow had already adopted Lark from Vietnam.  A change would require nothing less than an act of Congress.


Farrow had her mind set of adopting Soon-Yi: “This was my daughter.”


What Mia Farrow wanted, Mia Farrow would get, and her “old friends, Bill and Rose Styron, sought the help of Massachusetts Congressman Michael Harrington, and he agreed to sponsor the bill that was necessary. . . . Finally, in 1977, Congress passed the bill. Soon-Yi could come home.”

It was really as simple as all that.  Farrow got an exception to a federal law that would deliver the child she wanted to add to her growing collection of international adoptees.


This case has been dissected on nearly every level, except with regard to the multiple and frenetic adoptions. Understanding the constantly reinforced distinctions, made by both adults, between “natural” and “adopted” children allows us to understand...

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