March 3, 2012

Growing up in a Gay, Multiracial, Jewish Family. ~ via Joe Elliott

{Film Review}

A Review of the Documentary Off and Running.

Photo: Jacob Okada

Off and Running follows the story of Avery Klein-Cloud, a young African American woman who was adopted at birth and raised by her mothers Tova and Travis. In adolescence, Avery excels as a track athlete and is poised to earn a full scholarship at a prestigious university.

Despite having a number of friends and excelling in school, in her tight-knit Brooklyn Jewish community, Avery’s curiosity about her birth mother becomes all consuming, and she decides to search for her.

Avery has very little information about her birth mother or her biological siblings and finds it hard to contain the yearning to get the answers that she needs.

Avery grows up with two adopted brothers, of Puerto Rican and Korean descent, and the family affectionately refers to themselves as the United Nations. The family struggles with numerous narratives of marginalization and it forces the viewer to wonder if it’s possible for this family to make space for each others’ diversity and stay intact as they confront challenges that they haven’t faced before.

The film has received numerous awards and high acclaim. It was recommended to me by a professor at the Denver University Graduate School of Social Work.

At DU we led a class on examining the notion of constructed identities in the film. The goal of our work was to help students articulate how the concepts of race, gender, and sexuality are embedded in a set of hidden rules defined by our culture and practiced in a repetitive way in our relationships. The film is a study in how one particular family struggles with these rules and makes their own way.

One of the most powerful convictions that I have had as a couples and family therapist is that children are consigned with the task of fulfilling the wishes of their parents. I believe that Tova and Travis chose to adopt their children out of a deep sense of love, but they struggle to prepare their children for the judgment and prejudice that they encounter.

During the film, they find themselves caught in the debate over gay marriage and work to find a way to express their love for each other and find recognition for the commitment that they have for each other. They feel dismay when their children are not grateful for the guidance that they have to give, and at times, their children look for guidance elsewhere.

The film allows us to see how adopted children deal with abandonment and the profound lack of resolution that sometimes continues throughout their lives. The  Klein-Clouds provide a real gift in this film as they share the joys and losses that a family experiences in raising an adopted child.


Prepared by Lorin Arnold/Edited by Brianna Bemel


Joe Elliott has been working to help families for the past thirteen years. His specialties are in couples counseling, family therapy, death and dying, parenting, financial management, and adoption. Joe received his undergraduate degree from Naropa University in Psychology and Religious Studies and his Masters in Counseling from Regis University in Denver. Joe completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy from The Denver Family Institute. Joe has also taught Family Therapy to students at Metro State Community College. Find out more here.

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