Is Blue Bayou based on a true story? Legal context explained

Bruno Cooke September 15, 2021
Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

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Blue Bayou, written and directed by actor-director-YouTuber Justin Chon, premiered at Cannes on 13 July. It is due for a 17 September theatrical release in the US, ahead of which potential audiences are wondering: Is Blue Bayou based on a true story, or is it entirely fictitious?

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

What is Justin Chon’s film about?

Described as a “deportation drama”, Blue Bayou (2021) follows the trials and tribulations of Antonio LeBlanc, a Korean-American adopted immigrant living outside New Orleans.

His lives with his pregnant wife, rehabilitation nurse Kathy LeBlanc, and her daughter Jesse. During the course of the film, Antonio is harassed, violently arrested and placed into ICE custody. 

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Photo by Jacopo M. Raule/Getty Images for Dig In Magazine/IN Close Entertainment

Since his adoptive parents failed to naturalise him as a child, Antonio faces deportation. Immigration lawyer Barry Boucher warns him that, if his appeal is unsuccessful, he will never be able to return to America.

Ultimately – and this is the biggest spoiler – Antonio’s deportation goes ahead. Officials forcibly separate him from Jesse, his wife’s biological daughter. 

Following the film’s conclusion, real life cases of adopted, unnaturalised immigrants facing deportation come onscreen, along with statistics relating to immigrants facing similar circumstances.

Is Blue Bayou based on a true story?

As the film’s end matter suggests, deportations of unnaturalised adopted children occur every year. 

Blue Bayou dramatises the circumstances that can arise as a result of an immigration “loophole” that, per Screen Daily, “has seen thousands of children adopted at a very young age by US parents discover only much later in life that they have no legal status as American citizens”.

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BLUE BAYOU – Official Trailer (Universal Pictures) HD

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BLUE BAYOU – Official Trailer (Universal Pictures) HD
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Protagonist Antonio LeBlanc has lived in the US from the age of three – over 30 years. 

For a more detailed account of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), including criticisms of it, visit the Adoptee Rights Law Center’s webpage here

The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021 (ACA) comprises two identical bills currently pending in the US Congress. These two bills would amend US immigration law to close the loophole dramatised in Blue Bayou. Details of such can also be found on the ARLC’s ACA FAQ article, and on the Congress’ website.

Meet the cast of Blue Bayou

The cast of Blue Bayou includes Swedish actress and Hollywood heavyweight Alicia Vikander (Testament of Youth; The Glorias), who plays Antonio’s pregnant wife Kathy.

Child actor Sydney Kowalske portrays Kathy’s daughter, Jesse. Kowalske previously appeared in four episodes of Doom Patrol, as a young Clara Steele, in 2019. She also appeared as Toddler Marie in Girl In The Basement which, incidentally, is based on a true story.

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Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Also among the cast are Mark O’Brien as Ace, Jesse’s absent biological father, Linh Dan Pham (as Parker), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Barry Boucher) and Emory Cohen (Denny).

Writter-director Justin Chon stars as Antonio, the embattled protagonist.

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Bruno is a postgraduate student studying global journalism, with research interests in the intersection of the media, storytelling, culture and politics. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Packs Light and Forge Press, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com. He is a Student Ambassador for Tortoise Media, a big fan of Freddie Mercury and a novelist – his debut novel, Reveries, is available on Amazon.