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Abducted: The Carlina White Story
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Abducted: The Carlina White Story is a dramatization of a true story that only recently resolved: the kidnapping of 19-day-old infant Carlina White from Harlem in 1987, finally reunited with her parents at age 23. The movie shows some intense grief and loss, a marriage destroyed by the kidnapping, and the difficulties in reuniting a family after such a long time separated, as well as White's conflicting feelings toward her birth mother versus the only mother she knew for most of her life. Though the movie never goes for the cheap or sensational angle, these are mature themes that aren't appropriate for very young kids.
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What's the story?
Nejdra Nance (Keke Palmer) was 16 when she found herself pregnant and in need of a birth certificate to claim benefits for her soon-to-be child. When her mother Ann Pettway (Aunjanue Ellis) couldn't produce one, it confirmed other lingering fears that she didn't resemble her mother very much and couldn't always connect with her. When Nance searches the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, she begins to uncover her real identity, as the missing girl Carlina White, and that of her parents, Joy (Sherri Shepherd) and Carl, who'd been searching for her for decades ever since she'd been kidnapped at Harlem Hospital at 19 days old.
Is it any good?
This film takes a difficult subject and resists easy sensationalizing or, worse, race or class stereotypes that would render the characters in this film all victims, all saints, or all monsters. Instead, you get a surprisingly nuanced look at what it might be like to suffer the loss of a child to kidnapping, the discovery of one's own identity as a missing person, or the grief of multiple miscarriages, substance abuse, and troubled existence that might lead to committing a horrible crime such as kidnapping.
The facts here are sensational enough on their own, and although there are some intense emotional scenes and one brief scene of illegal drug use, what emerges is a portrait of the complex mix of grief and anger that this case produced, keeping the focus on how White could reconcile her feelings for the woman who simultaneously stole her life and loved her like her own child. There are mature themes here but a lot of good discussion potential about what it looks like when a TV network known for lurid storytelling takes a subtler approach.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's tone of respect for the lives involved. How does it manage this? How is it different from other movies that portray true crime stories as sensational or lurid?
How does the film portray Ann Pettway? Is she a criminal, or is she a victim?
Does the film resort to stereotypes about class and race? How does it avoid them? What are some of the surprises in the movie with regard to how each character is portrayed?
Themes & Topics
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.