SUBJECTS — Health; U.S./1991 to Present;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Alcohol & Drug Abuse; Families In Crisis; Mother/Daughter; Parenting;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring.
Rated TV-PG; 2004; 90 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
This is the story of a teenage girl with four younger siblings, a drug-addicted mother, and co-dependent grandmother. Gracie manages to keep her family together through hard work and perseverance, eventually convincing a court to allow her to adopt her younger brothers over her mother’s objections. At the end of the movie, Gracie is living the life of a single mother and bettering herself by taking courses at a community college.
With one important exception, this movie is a reasonably accurate reflection of a true story. Not shown in the movie is the fact that Amy (the name of the real girl portrayed in the movie) became pregnant at age 19. She decided to keep the child but refused her boyfriend’s requests that she marry him. He was unwilling to take the responsibility of caring for her younger brothers and she was unwilling to put them into foster care. Amy chose to raise her son along with her brothers as a single mother.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: None.
Featured Actors: Kristen Bell as Gracie Thompson; Anne Heche as Rowena Lawson; Diane Ladd as Louela Lawson; Shedrack Anderson III ad Tommy; Roberta Maxwell as the Judge; Kristin Fairlie as Rose Carlton; Brian Akins as Ryan Walker; and David Gibson McLean as Jonny Blicker.
Director: Peter Werner.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This movie shows the devastating effects of drug addiction on a family and codependence in operation. However, the most important lesson comes from the actions of Gracie, a girl who overcomes great difficulty, keeps her family together, and progresses with her life.
“Gracie’s Choice” will give students in health classes a visceral understanding of these lessons. In English Language Arts classes, the movie will motivate students and drive assignments.
Tell your child that this film is based on real events and watch it as a family. Nothing more is required. However, if your child is really interested, print out the Reader’s Digest article on which this movie is based: A Lifelong Fight by Rena Dictor LeBlanc.
In 2000 Reader’s Digest published an article about a girl named Amy who was struggling to keep her family together.
The article elicited an intense reader response and it was ultimately adapted for the Lifetime movie, “Gracie’s Choice.” While the movie captures the essence of Amy’s story and is accurate as to the important facts, some changes were made by the filmmakers. In addition to her three younger brothers and one younger sister, Amy had a twin sister, Jessica, who left the house at age 14. Amy and her twin had irreconcilable differences. Their mother, Jan, was indeed a drug addict, and very rarely concerned herself with the welfare of her six children.
The childrens’ grandmother tried to take care of them but, as shown in the movie, the grandmother enabled her daughter’s drug addiction and continually gave Amy’s mother “second” chances. Amy took on the motherly role that she and her siblings desperately needed. As their mother sank deeper into addiction and put her children’s lives in danger, social workers intervened and separated the children. They were apart for six months. Upon their return, Amy vowed that she would do everything she could to prevent her family from being separated again.
Amy held down multiple jobs, found a cheap place to live, and at the same time juggled caring for her four siblings. Her younger sister eventually went to live with an aunt, not a boyfriend. Amy started legal proceedings to adopt her siblings and was awarded temporary custody of them when she was 18. Later, the adoption was approved and Amy became the legal “mother” to her three brothers.
But there were more complications to come. In the movie Amy’s mother tells the court that Amy and her boyfriend are having sex while the kids were at home. Not shown in the film is the fact that despite using birth control, Amy became pregnant at age 19. Despite already caring for three children, Amy decided to keep the baby and gave birth to a son. Amy’s relationship with her boyfriend deteriorated when he asked her to choose between him and her siblings. Amy chose her family and eventually saved up enough money to move into a small rented house. Amy is now a single mother to four boys, working, and going to college part-time.
USING IN THE CLASSROOM
Structuring the lesson with “Into/Through/Beyond,” we suggest the following:
INTO: The only introduction that needs to be made to the movie is to tell the class that it’s based on real facts and that they’ll get to read about what really happened after they’ve seen the movie. Teachers might also have students read TWM’s handout on Codependence — What Happens When a Family Member is an Alcoholic or a Drug Addict.
THROUGH: Watch the film and review several Discussion Questions. Health teachers should conduct a discussion based on the questions that focus on the curriculum standards for which you are showing the film. ELA teachers should select questions that will relate to the skills-based assignment that will be coming.
BEYOND: Have the class read the Reader’s Digest article on which this movie is based. Then either discuss in class the Quick Discussion Question and several of the other Discussion Questions. An alternative is to have the class write an essay on any of these topics.
In order to stress the fact that the movie accurately reflects most of the story, we have used the names from the Reader’s Digest article.
ALCOHOL & DRUG ABUSE
1. What was the effect on Amy’s family when her grandmother took Jan (Amy’s mother) back again and again, despite the fact that Jan was still using drugs? Did any good come from it?
No, the grandmother’s actions were not good for any member of the family. Allowing Jan to find a refuge in her home and therefore avoid many of the unpleasant consequences of living an intoxicated lifestyle, simply allowed Jam to continue to be a drug addict. It would have been better for Jan if the grandmother had kicked her out any time she was intoxicated and required that she be in rehab and clean before allowing Jan back into the home. Allowing Jan back into the house was also bad for Amy and her brothers and sisters because they needed a stable home without the disruption caused by an addicted person. When the social service agencies said that they would put the children into foster care if Jan was allowed back into the grandmother’s home, for the sake of the children, the grandmother should have kept Amy’s mother out of the house. It was also bad for the grandmother to have Jan in the house because Jan destabilized the family and caused the grandmother stress.
2 Amy’s grandmother was suffering from a psychological condition. What was it? Justify your answer.
Amy’s grandmother suffered from codependence. The justification is in the answer to question #1.
3. Make a list of the people who were enabling Amy’s mother, Jan, in her drug addiction.
Jan’s own mother (the grandmother) and Jan’s various boyfriends.
PARENTING; FAMILIES IN CRISIS
4. What, if anything, is wrong with placing children in foster care?
A well-administered foster care system is a good thing and good for most kids placed in foster care. Most foster care parents are loving, committed people who provide a stable, temporary home for the children placed with them. (For an example of a wise and caring foster care parent, see Angels in the Outfield.) However, Gracie and her siblings wanted to stay together and maintain their family unit. Foster care would have required at least some of the siblings to be separated.
5. What binds a family together?
Love makes a family. Bloodlines are helpful in binding families together but they are not necessary. Adopted children are loved as fully as biological children.
6. How do you define heroic actions? Were Amy’s actions heroic?
A good definition of heroic actions are those which require “courage and daring” or which are “supremely noble or self-sacrificing”. Merriam Webster Dictionary Definition of “heroic” To help her brothers, Amy sacrificed her own interests, including her scholarship to college; her relationship with her boyfriend; and the possibility of living a normal life taking care of her son in a family with a husband. She undertook a daring task, taking care of her family herself and asking a court to take the unusual step of terminating her mother’s parental rights and allowing Amy, an 18-year-old girl, to adopt her three younger brothers. Undertaking these responsibilities took courage. Heroism is not limited to acts taken on the battlefield or in saving people in dangerous situations by people such as soldiers, police officers, and firefighters. In the Reader’s Digest article, the real-life judge is quoted as saying to Amy, “You saved three kids.” While Amy may not have been as publicly heroic as a firefighter, she kept her family together, despite everything working against her.
7. Was Amy’s boyfriend right to ask Amy to allow her brothers to go into foster care and live with him and their son as a family?
There is no one correct answer to this question. The boyfriend had no obligation to take care of the brothers. Taking them into his family would have required a totally different life from what he had the right to expect. However, an argument could be made that if he loved Amy, he would have agreed to take on the task of caring for the brothers.
8. Did Amy have a responsibility to take care of her family to the extent of foregoing a scholarship to a university or losing her relationship with the father of her child?
There is no one correct answer to this question. Here is how TWM would answer it. Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that Amy’s siblings were her family and there was no one else to take care of them. As a member of the family, she had a responsibility to care for them. No, because the role Amy took on as the caretaker for her brothers should have been filled by a parent, grandparent, or another adult. Amy was a young person. She didn’t decide to give birth to her brothers. In order to take care of her siblings, Amy had to give up dreams and opportunities that young people should have, such as a scholarship to a prestigious university and marriage to the father of her child. Many people, perhaps most people, would have pursued their own lives, taken advantage of the opportunities that they had earned, and allowed the brothers to go into foster care. No one could say that this was the wrong decision. Taking care of her brothers was, in that sense, not her responsibility.
9. Do you know of anyone who has overcome difficulties like Amy? Can you tell us their story?
There is no one right answer to this question.
10. Do you know of anyone who, like Amy, has looked at the bad role models of the adults in their lives and rejected them by living a good, nurturing, and productive life?
There is no one correct answer to this question but there are millions of the people who have done this, especially in neighborhoods ravaged by drugs and alcohol. For an example in public life, see the description of the early life of Chris Gardner in the Learning Guide to “The Pursuit of Happyness”.
11. Amy accidentally became pregnant at age 19 even though she was using birth control. Does this change your opinion of her? Do you still consider her a hero?
There is no one correct answer to this question. Some people will consider Amy immoral to have had sex with her boyfriend before they were married. Many will take the position that accidents happen and that even the most celebrated hero can experience mishaps. Still, others will take the position that having sex before marriage at age 19 is not wrong and that Amy was being responsible by using birth control.
12. Describe the relationship between Gracie and her mother as shown in the movie.
A strong answer will include the concept that the mother abandoned her responsibilities and her daughter had to take them on or the family would disintegrate.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
See questions 6 – 8 in Parenting/Families in Crisis and in Mother/Daughter
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
See question #5 in Parenting/Families in Crisis.