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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Found’ on Netflix, a Thoughtful Documentary That Follows Three Chinese-American Girls on Their Identity Quests

Published Nov. 2, 2021, 6:30 p.m. ET

Netflix’s Found is a legitimately tearjerking, heartstring-yanking documentary about three teenage girls born in China, abandoned by their parents during the country’s era of the one-child policy, and adopted by American families. Roughly 150,000 Chinese children were placed in American homes between 1979 and 2015, most of them female, due to the greater “value” ascribed to boys by Chinese culture and society. Director Amanda Lipitz — the aunt of one of the girls in the film, Chloe — follows these three young women on their physical and emotional journeys to find their birth parents.

The Gist: Lily lives in Oklahoma City, the adopted daughter of a single mother. She shows off her collection of athletics medals; she graduates from high school and prepares for college; we see her at the dinner table with some of her 15 cousins, the product of her mother’s large Catholic family. She has a considerable underbite, and during the course of the film, she has jaw surgery to correct it. “It’s what I got from them,” she says, referring to the parents she never knew, and may never know.

Sadie lives in Nashville. Since she was adopted, her parents divorced. She’s outgoing and talkative, and her friends tease her by saying, “You act so white.” We see her on the bus, chatting with another Chinese adoptee, and they openly share and discuss their feelings and experiences. Her mother pulls out a photo album and shares centuries of her family’s history, and Sadie seems disinterested. No, not disinterested — disconnected.

We meet Chloe in Jerusalem, where she celebrates her bat mitzvah, but she lives in Seattle. She was adopted by Jewish parents, and attended Hebrew school for nine years until she expressed a desire to attend a different school, maybe one where she can learn to speak Mandarin. She says she isn’t interested in potentially meeting her birth parents. She’s just not ready to “go there” — not yet, anyway.

The first thing these three girls have in common is enough interest in their ancestry to submit DNA samples to 23andMe for genetic testing, and through the service, they learn that they’re cousins. They meet via internet video chat, and immediately connect. They’re all on the same wavelength. Before long, they connect with Liu Hao, a genealogist in Beijing who specializes in helping people like Lily, Sadie and Chloe reconnect with their birth parents.

(Chloe warmed to the idea after meeting Lily and Sadie.) Hao is upfront about their chances — if they’re lucky, it’s a needle-in-a-haystack situation — but they try anyway. Hao posts their photos on social media sites, follows up on leads, meets parents, many of them poverty-stricken, who gave up their children anonymously for fear of federal penalties. She takes their saliva samples and tests their DNA to see if there’s a match.

Meanwhile, Chloe, Lily and Sadie plan a trip to China. They’ll meet there in person for the first time. They’ll climb the steps to the Great Wall. They’ll offer a prayer at the foot of a giant Buddha statue. They’ll visit the orphanages where they lived as infants and the precise places where their parents abandoned them. They’ll meet the nannies that fed and soothed them when they were babies. They may not find their parents, but this trip has so much value beyond that. So much.


What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: One Child Nation — on Amazon Prime — finds documentary filmmakers Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, both Americans born under China’s one-child policy, returning to their native country to examine the effects of the “population planning program” on families.

Performance Worth Watching: Hao is a patient saint of a woman who not only diligently and nobly does a lot of thankless legwork, but listens to adoptees and parents share their stories, and the feelings that inevitably follow. She shares how she was raised by her grandparents after her father wanted to abandon her. She understands and relates to these people, deeply.

Memorable Dialogue: “The whole process of adoption — it’s grieving.” — Lily’s mom

Our Take: Sadie gives the impression that she’s rarely at a loss for words, and there she is, silent, in China, observing and absorbing the culture, bustling and noisy, stricken with poverty, her facial expression communicating a feeling of being overwhelmed, maybe even bewildered. It’s an honest, truthful moment. Lily and Chloe get their turns too. In America, they often feel as if they’re in a bubble, being the only Asian people in their communities. But China may feel like an alien planet to them. There’s too much to process, and you can sense the emotional collisions occurring in such moments. They’re in a film about identity, inclusion and representation, and that’s a massive wad of gum to chew even if you’re a fully formed adult mind.

Thankfully, the girls are surrounded by extraordinary women. Their mothers are selfless, encouraging, supportive. Hao is many things to them — translator, tour guide, emotional support; they cry on her shoulder. The nannies Hao tracks down claim to recognize and remember them, many years and many hundreds of abandoned babies later; they have dinner and cry together. There’s no easy resolution to the girls’ quest, and Lipitz wisely doesn’t force the narrative, because to do so would be disingenuous, and a disservice to her subjects. Sadie, Chloe and Lily experience hope and heartbreak in this movie, which captures their profound education, their exploration of themselves, the lives they had before they could remember, and the lives they have now. Please note, the film is not titled Lost.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Found is a moving, intimate and poignant documentary.

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