Adoption is often used as a tool, both literally and figuratively, for a fantasy of rescue — and therefore it is a suitable device for normativizing parenting, particularly mothering, as a measure of moral nobility. In this article, the contested nature of prominent cultural depictions of motherhood, especially as they pertain to the question of race, is juxtaposed with the form of the oppositional gaze represented in two adoption documentary films: Nicole Opper's Off and Running (US, 2009) and Camille Billops and James Hatch's groundbreaking Finding Christa (US, 1991). The article looks at these documentaries to explore black female subjectivity, with the trope of adoption acting as an organizing narrative principle. Adoption is treated as a metaphor of sorts, and one that might dislocate the primacy of traditional moralizing about what it means (not) to be a mother. In adoption, various vectors of familial and racial ideology meet: affirmative adoption narratives propose a family structure that does not insist on limited, and limiting, roles for women. To that end, I ask how a nonpathological depiction of adoption, in which the biological mother is not an object of scorn, might reframe the moralistic tone with which black motherhood in particular is policed in popular culture.

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