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DVD Review: Abducted: The Carlina White Story

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To any parent, it sounds unthinkable. In a hospital with hundreds of doctors, nurses, support staff, patients and visitors, a baby girl is snatched from her bassinet by a complete stranger and taken away.

This is exactly what happened to tiny Carlina White, less than a month old, at New York City’s Harlem Hospital in 1987. Ann Pettway, who had suffered a tragic miscarriage not long before, pretended to be a nurse and even comforted Carlina’s mother, who had taken the fever-stricken baby to the hospital. Pettway convinced her to go home and rest, and then she did the unthinkable.

The child’s parents and the NYPD, carried out an exhaustive search for the missing child in the days following her abduction. As time passed, however, the story migrated to the back pages of New York’s tabloids, and ultimately became just another cold case. Carlina’s parents divorced, but they never stopped believing their little girl would someday be found.

And then, one day, she was. Teenager Nejdra Nance, raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, discovered that the birth certificate her mother kept in a drawer was a forgery. When she confronted the woman she thought was her mother – Ann Pettway – she was told that she had been abandoned as a baby by a drug-addicted mother.

The devastated girl subsequently made contact with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and determined that she was Carlina White, missing for almost two decades. White’s abduction, and her subsequent reunion with her birth parents, is recreated in the made-for-cable film Abducted: The Carlina White Story, now on DVD after airing on the Lifetime channel last October.

The resulting film has its moments, especially in the first half, but doesn’t really do justice to its subject.  Like many “Lifetime Original” movies made on a modest budget, the production values aren’t very high, especially for a story that spans several years.

Say what you will about Lifetime’s much-maligned Liz and Dick, but at least the filmmakers made some effort to portray the passage of time.  The 1987 scenes in Abducted, unfortunately, look almost exactly like the scenes that take place in the present day.

Worse, some of the characters don’t appear to age over the course of the movie, despite the passage of almost 20 years.  The actress playing Pettway’s sister, in particular looks exactly the same when Carlina was a baby and when she’s a young woman.  Different performers play the child and her mother in 1987 and in the present, but the actor playing her father received little more than a spritz of grey hair coloring.

The performances are generally good, especially from Aunjanue Ellis (The Help) as Pettway and Keke Palmer (who is scheduled to play “Chilli” Thomas in an upcoming TV movie about TLC) as the grown-up Carlina White.  But the filmmakers (including director Vondie Curtis-Hall, still trying to live down Glitter) erred in having White discover her true identity and parents halfway through the movie.  While the first half is quite affecting, the events that come after their reunion, including a dispute over a trust fund which had been set up for the child, seems anticlimactic.

Ultimately, if you’ve seen any ripped-from-the-headlines Lifetime movies, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Abducted.  A documentary about the case, included as a special feature on the DVD, is more interesting.

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About Damian P.