Here's what the press thought of Secret Daughter...We also want to know what you think.
Join us in the Discussion Forum and share your thoughts.

From New York Times
By Caryn James

"Secret Daughter might have been breathtaking if it had been an hour long. At two hours, it becomes repetitious. It is valuable to see clips of Stump and Stumpy on stage and to realize why they bring to mind Martin and Lewis. Jerry Lewis, in an interview, says he was influenced by black performers like Jimmy Cross. It does not help to hear this several times.

When an old friend presses June to acknowledge anger at her mother--raising a question that viewers have probably been mulling over, too--she is evasive. She says she had a better life as part of a loving, middle-class black family than she would have had with her mother. But when she says of Norma, 'She loved me enough to give me away,' it sounds like the only answer she can live with. Secret Daughter leaves viewers restless for a more complex response. This is, after all, a tale of betrayal as well as love. Yet it is also a stirring memoir, which has required both mother and daughter to be as bravely honest as they could manage."

From Emerge
By Gerald B. Jordan

"Cross, who is a producer for the honored PBS series FRONTLINE , tells her own story of outright rejection by her mother and abandonment by her show business father. It's a dramatic tale because of the real-time effort Cross expends in trying to convince her mother to reveal a lifetime secret.

It's a heartrending because Cross is an endearing person who rightly should have been able to interview a White woman about her 1950s love affair with a Black man, the two people who happened to be her parents. The pain Cross likely underwent in order to pull off this documentary must have been harsh..."

"...Secret Daughter is part personal story, part sociology lesson, part U.S. history, and an overall picture of a tremendous loss in a family's life.

Both sides of June Cross' family left a treasure trove of photos, film, letters and other memorabilia that enable her to illustrate her story vividly. How many children can boast of having technicolor movie footage of their father performing on stage? The family archives, coupled with Cross' own recollections--which form a sort of time line alongside events in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement and the emerging Black consciousness--provides a story rich in detail.

Despite the documentary's love and care in the telling, Norma, even today, comes off as cold, remote and completely willing to deny her daughter. By contrast, Storch shows more affection toward June, and she's close to her half-brother, Larry, who seems to be extremely well-adjusted and thoughtful...

"...Secret Daughter is windy and given to tangents that seem to provide sanctuary for Cross when she's hurting too much to say so. But it's a good documentary to add to the compendium of thought on questions of race in America."

From Boston Globe
By John Koch

"Secret Daughter is panoramic as well as personal, revealing, for instance, sharp details about the racially divided entertainment industry of the '50s when white comedians like Jerry Lewis often plundered the work of blacks like June's father, Jimmy Cross. It confronts the subject of race in America in all its poignant and ugly confusion.

The intriguing paradox is how directly the film communicates its uncomfortable truths and how, at the same time, Cross can be indirect, hidden and elusive. For example, she didn't intend to be in the film. She began by shooting it alone, safely behind a lightweight camera, but when a three-hour interview with her mother came out soundless because she failed to hit the audio switch, FRONTLINE persuaded her to get a full crew, thereby forcing her literally into the film she was making."

From The Philadelphia Inquirer
by Lucia Herdon

"Cross' relationship with her mother is the heart of a program to be shown Tuesday on PBS. Secret Daughter explores their connection and gives insights into what circumstances could lead a mother to give her child to neighbors.

Mother-daughter relationships are complex, even when they are loving. Most people don't get the chance to explore such a private relationship in such a public manner..."

"...Cross does ask the questions, but throughout the show she expresses, not so much anger, as an acceptance of sad fact.

Maybe it's asking too much for a daughter to be mad at her mother. When another "aunt," Sheila Gregory, tells her she has good reason to be angry, Cross demurs, even downplays her mother's actions.

"She acknowledged me when she could," says Cross.

"It sounds like you're skirting [the issue], " said Gregory. But for Cross, her mother's racial concerns are only a small part of the whole woman. "The shame she felt about having a black daughter I wish was not there," she said. "But I don't hate her because of it. I felt abandoned by my mother, but not on racial grounds."

Race aside, Cross asked her mother to use a public forum to explain herself. On some level, it must bring Cross a moment of satisfaction."

From Village Voice
By Valerie Burgher

"Norma Storch is Secret Daughter's maudlin centerpiece, a severe woman who sacrifices her relationship with her daughter out of what she sees as necessity. Norma is at first reluctant to delve into her past for the cameras. When the pair finally sits down together, June manipulates, to startling effect, the very medium that initially forced her separation from her mother. During their conversation, June punctuates every question with ease. As Norma recounts her personal history--limited access to her own mother, a volatile relationship with Jimmy, the on-again, off-again love affair with Storch--her daughter points out that she has forgotten one crucial point in the time line. "You seem to have skipped a part," she laughs. "You know, my birth?"

Norma claims her actions were necessary, not only to appease "show business friends," but also to ensure that June would grow up without questioning her own identity. June claims that she understands that she was better off with an upper-middle-class black couple, and that she has forgiven. As the reunited pair strolls off in the closing shots, it becomes apparent that Secret Daughter is, for both June Cross and her mother, the performance of a lifetime."

From Newsday
By Les Payne

"In a stunning autobiographical piece running two hours, June Cross, a FRONTLINE producer, confronts on-camera her birth mother, who has kept her a secret..."

"...June Cross' documentary is a most revealing examination of the subject up close and very personal. With fetching but sketchy coverage of her comedian father, Cross' documentary unravels from the perspective of her white mother and family. Norma descended from Mormons who did not allow blacks to enter their priesthood's or temples until 1973. Cross' maternal grandmother was a Jazz Age flapper, a bookie and the companion of four husbands and two significant others. Her free spirit, unlike her daughter's, did not cross color lines. "She's a cute little monkey once you get used to looking at her," is June Cross' memory of her grandmother's visit, when Cross was 4.

Harsher memories are stirred during conversations between mother and daughter about why she was given away. "If I had not gotten darker as I grew older, I could have stayed with her, " Cross recalls.

"Why didn't you abort me?" she asks her mother.

"I thought about that. But I didn't have the money. You're here because I didn't have the money."

"Just think," June says, "you wouldn't have to be doing this interview...Your friends would be safe."

Don't miss it."

From The Orlando Sentinel
By Hal Boedeker

"Heritage is the crucial issue in "Secret Daughter" on Tuesday's FRONTLINE . This deeply personal story is told by June Cross, a FRONTLINE producer whose mother is white and whose father was black. Cross wants to know why her mother Norma, gave her to black friends to raise in the late 1950s.

Many TV movies try to tell stories about mothers and daughters. Few have the feeling and understanding of this documentary, which makes important points about identity, race and family.

"Secret Daughter" stands out because it's so real and fresh. The likable Cross fails to turn on the sound when first interviewing her mother, then has to plead for nine months for another chat."

"...FRONTLINE will never command as many viewers as Frasier or Home Improvement. But "Secret Daughter" is exceptional. It cuts through the glossiness and silliness of television to say something profound. How often does a TV show do that?"

From Atlanta Constitution
By Drew Jubera

"But this painfully exhilarating FRONTLINE is more than the memoir of an oddly grafted family tree. It is a personal travelogue that exposes the culture at large. With easy but unyielding grace, Cross interviews family and friends to understand the father she never knew and the mother she never talked with, allowing us to witness each discovery with her. Along daunting than race, identity, class, family, regret, love, and mothers and daughters.

By the end, Cross has slyly transformed her secret past into the nation's own uncomfortable, largely unresolved history. So she speaks for more than herself when she concludes of her hours spent with Norma: 'She's my mother, I'm her daughter. I'm black. She's white. We have just started our conversation.'

It's a conversation you won't forget."

From Dallas Morning News
By Manuel Mendoza

"Ms. Cross uses this gently prodding approach throughout Secret Daughter , her first-person account of growing up in a racially divided family and country. As a producer for the PBS news-documentary series FRONTLINE , she is accustomed to maintaining an objective distance from her subjects.

But with the cameras turned on her own strange story, Ms. Cross' cool detachment is off-putting. In the end, Secret Daughter is saved by her journalistic instincts as she accumulates dozens of details about her family and racism's effect on it.

The result is a good yarn and illuminating slice of American history, even if it's not emotionally satisfying."

"...Without reaching a complete understanding of what happened to her or revealing how it affected her, Ms. Cross appears to achieve a reconciliation with her past. She not only forgives her mother, but concludes that she would not have become who she is if her mother had not given her away, that she wound up better off for it.

For anyone concerned about the racial divide, it's a bitter truth to swallow, but a truth nonetheless."

From New York Daily News
By Eric Mink

"Secret Daughter is a rich and multi-layered story that Cross pursues across color and state lines from East Coast to West Coast, from once-pleasant middle-class neighborhoods of Atlantic City to Harlem when it was jumping to postwar L.A. Through characters as vibrant and distinctive as any you'll find in fiction. Cross explores, among other things, the porous barrier that divided blacks and whites in show business.

But family remains the unifying thread of Secret Daughter and Cross manages to find within her unique story a universality that should resonate with all viewers, whatever their color or background. It is a remarkable achievement."

discussions | blurred racial lines | audio stories | june's family tree | bi-racial portraits | how to search family trees | readings | reactions

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation