By Stacy Jenel Smith
The controversy over Madonna
's adoption of one-year-old David Banda of Malawi has put a spotlight - and fresh scrutiny -- on celebrities who adopt, especially those who take in children of different backgrounds from their own.
This year has also seen Meg Ryan bringing home new daughter Daisy, whom she adopted in China. And Ewan McGregor and wife Eve added a four-year-old Mongolian daughter to their family in April. The development has given rise to derisive-sounding headlines about "Adoption Fever" among the famed and international adoptions being "All the Rage."
Why don't they adopt babies from their own countries? Are they doing it just to look good - as a public relations ploy? How come stars get to cut in front of the line, so to speak, when countless hopeful adoptive parents must wait, and wait, for their chances to adopt a new son or daughter?
Madonna herself addressed the first question, in the statement the 48-year-old singer issued in response to the Human Right Consultative Committee's challenge to her and husband Guy Ritchie
's plans for little David:
"After learning that there were over one million orphans in Malawi, it was my wish to open up our home and help one child escape an extreme life of hardship, poverty and in many cases death, as well as expand our family."
Unforeseen complications in the matter include the fact that David, who was in an orphanage, turns out to have a father who's come out with contradictory statements about his feelings on the adoption.
Reports that have Madonna and Guy getting advice from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on the pending adoption may not be helping on the public relations end. After all, Jolie herself has been eyed with suspicion. She was, for instance, given a facetious award for publicity ploy of 2005 by comedian Jimmy Kimmel for the way she defused outrage over her perceived stealing of America's Sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston's, husband, Pitt: "She adopted a baby -- but not just any baby - an Ethiopian baby!"
That was the child now known as Zahara Marley Jolie-Pitt - younger sister of Cambodia-born Maddox Jolie-Pitt, older sister of Angelina and Brad's biological daughter Shiloh. Zahara's biological mother had died of AIDS and her biological father was unknown. Angelina adopted her in July of '05 - "she was six months and not nine pounds," according to the star -- and subsequent claims by several women who said they were actually Zahara's biological mom or grandmother were eventually ruled as bogus by an Ethiopian judge.
Whether altruism and love, or self-interest -- or some of each -- are motivational factors behind celebrity adoptions, there is no denying the stars' actions are influencing others. In fact, the popularity of adoption among celebrities has been credited with helping to broaden the general public's definition of what constitutes a desirable adoption. That includes looking beyond the comparatively limited prospects for finding notoriously high-in-demand, healthy white infants.
A number of celebs - including Michelle Pfeiffer, Rosie O'Donnell and former couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman -- have adopted children of different races.
Veteran actress Valerie Harper's daughter was already almost four when she and husband Tony Cacciotti adopted her.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw are the parents of seven children, including two African-Americans adopted through the public Child Welfare System. They've also been deeply involved in an L.A.-based campaign to find permanent homes for the tens of thousands of adoptable children currently in foster care - a process that can be far less expensive and faster than private adoption.
It's been true for generations that celebrities -- such as James Caviezel and his wife, who adopted a three-year-old Chinese boy -- have been at the forefront of adoptions when it comes to children from foreign lands. Many have heeded the call of need from places ravaged by war and natural disaster, leaving countless orphans.
In 1974, when she and husband Blake Edwards adopted two orphaned Vietnamese girls (Amy and Joanna), Julie Andrews was asked why she didn't adopt a European or American orphan.
"It goes back several years to the time when Blake and I were members of the Committee of Responsibility," replied the long-time supporter of charities that help refugees. "It was organized to bring children who were victims of the Vietnam war to the United States for medical attention and treatment they couldn't receive over there. Hundreds of youngsters were brought to America, treated, and returned to Vietnam. We had an opportunity to see some of those children" - and they were enchanted.
"There was another element that encouraged us to adopt a Vietnamese child," she added. "Andre Previn and Mia Farrow are close friends of ours and they adopted such a child. We also are friends of the Yul Brenners, who adopted two Vietnamese children. So we decided to go through the same agency in Saigon that helped them"
Mia Farrow, who had four biological children, reached out to adopt ten more from all around the world, some with disabilities. The most famous of them, Soon-Yi Previn, went on to have an affair with Mia's then-significant-other, Woody Allen, as a teenager. Then Woody and Soon-Yi married and adopted two children themselves.
As far as the comparative speed and expediency of celebrity adoptions - it's a money issue more than anything else, say many involved in adoptions among famous people. Stars are usually at a huge economic advantage - having the ability to get help from multiple agencies and attorneys for adoptions both overseas and here at home.
Rosie O'Donnell told People magazine in 2001 that she had "retained five lawyers and paid them anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 each" to locate birth mothers when she sought to adopt.
There are down sides. Their very celebrity places famous folk at risk of being targeted for exploitation. Stories of stars who've been objects of attempted blackmail by what amount to baby sellers - including babies' parents - are out there. The late Nell Carter, already then the mother of two adopted sons, found herself in a bad predicament after attempting to adopt a daughter, and finding the birth parents at her door asking for money before they'd sign the papers. The adoption did not go through.
One hears rumors about certain actresses who've sought to adopt because they wanted to avoid the toll pregnancy takes on a woman's body - but no one's about to admit that publicly. In fact, celebrities' reasons for adopting children are as varied as those of non-famous folks:
JoBeth Williams and her husband, director John Pasquin, turned to adoption after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments and several miscarriages.
Kate Jackson and Calista Flockhart are among the single women who adopted to become mothers. So is Diane Keaton, who adopted a baby girl in 1996 and a boy in 2001. George Lucas, who adopted daughter Amanda with his ex-wife Marcia, when on to adopt two more children - Katie and Jett -- as a single dad.
O'Donnell, who's a lesbian, chose to go the adoption route to start a family, though her long-time partner Kelli Carpenter later gave birth to daughter Vivienne Rose via sperm donor.
Kirk Cameron and Chelsea Noble chose adoption to expand their family; they have four adopted kids, along with two biological offspring.
"I think adoption is a blessing all around when it's done right," fellow star Hugh Jackman was quick to say when recently asked about Madonna's adoption efforts. Jackman and wife Deborra-Lee Furness have two adopted children, son Oscar Maximillian and daughter Ava Eliot.
Of course, as Julie Andrews put it, "After all, children are children no matter what their background." And love is love.