A Race for Identity
Off and Running
Directed by Nicole Opper
Written by Avery Klein-Cloud and Nicole Opper
Released by First Run Features
“Do you feel black?” a counselor asks Avery Klein-Cloud in the documentary “Off and Running,” voicing the question that hovers subliminally over every scene. Avery, an African-American teenager, is clear. “I don’t know what that means,” she says, though the film has already suggested that the answer is no.
All Avery understands, by her own admission, is how to be white and Jewish. Raised in an observant household in Brooklyn by Tova Klein and Travis Cloud, a lesbian couple with two other adopted, nonwhite children, Avery is a gifted athlete and a loving sister. But when she reaches out to her birth mother in Texas, her need to connect with the past jeopardizes her future and distances her from the only family she has ever known.
“You take after me,” Tova says fondly, witnessing her daughter’s single-minded pursuit of her roots and — like much of the film — prodding our preconceptions about nature and nurture. Following patiently, the director, Nicole Opper, makes space for the complexities of transracial adoption without forcing her film into a predetermined, inspirational box.
Yet the role played by her camera in exacerbating Avery’s natural, adolescent self-absorption continues to nag; in the end, I was less concerned for the wildly indulged Avery — whose own narration reveals a charismatic and extremely fortunate young woman — than for the hearts breaking around her.
(Tags: Movie, Black, Jewish, Identity)