PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- HBO wasn't looking for a political film when it asked Rosie O'Donnell to make a documentary about families, but realized in progress that it had one.
"A Family Is a Family Is a Family: A Rosie O'Donnell Celebration" debuts Sunday evening (7 p.m. EST). It's primarily children talking about their families: adopted children, those with two moms, those with two dads, those taken care of by a grandparent, single parents, multiracial blends. Oh, and a mother and a father living under the same roof.
All were comfortable with their own families, even if some in society are not comfortable with all the different family configurations.
"All children need to see their own lives reflected in the media and need to be included when there are discussions about family," said O'Donnell, who has four children.
"To vilify a whole group of people, or children, because of the sexual orientation of their parents, I don't know if that does anything to help the next generation," the 47-year-old comedian-actress said.
Producers set out initially to find nontraditional families with the idea of comforting anxieties, showing these children that deep down, families are families. Seeing them all together made Sheila Nevins, head of HBO's documentary unit, see that it was making a political point.
With the effort to be all-inclusive, Nevins said that near the end, she realized they hadn't talked to enough families with a married mother and father.
"There are no endorsements," she said. "It's just kids expressing what it means to be in a family."
Some animation and music from the likes of Ziggy Marley singing with his mother and sister complement the kids. Two moms are shown preparing to get married with their children involved, two dads say a prayer at the kitchen table with the daughter they adopted, and three brothers who live with their mother and grandmother mug for the camera.
Even her own children sometime struggle with issues of family identity, with adoption and test-tube conception, O'Donnell said. She asked all four what would be their ideal family and got four different answers, including one who said a mother and father.
O'Donnell and Nevins talked about whether O'Donnell and her family should be in the film, particularly as it was being made at a period of transition with O'Donnell and her partner Kelli Carpenter separating.
Ultimately, they decided it would seem strange without them.
"I wanted it to be a stew, a stew with equal portions of everything — a little bit of me, a little carrots, a little celery," O'Donnell said. "I just wanted to be one of the many vegetables in the pot."
O'Donnell is seen in the film with her 6-year-old daughter, Vivienne Rose, explaining to her that they're still a family even though she and Carpenter no longer live together. Her daughter had other things on her mind.
"I made the mistake of telling Viv that we were doing it three or four days before, because I think she practiced," she said. "She wore pearls and had her hair done — not like the kid I spend every day with."
Another segment that triggered discussion was an animated "sex education" section, with dancing sperm in top hats competing for the affection of an egg. It was purposely done in an old-fashioned style to the accompaniment of Frank Sinatra's rendition of "Too Marvelous for Words." Nevins thought it was important to offer the fundamentals of how a baby is made.
That drew a grimace from O'Donnell's 14-year-old son, Parker.
"When he saw it he said, `Oh, mom, did you have to put the sperm thing in?'" said O'Donnell, who would like to take the film around to schools to hold discussions about families. She's already compiled enough material from the interviews with children to make a film about the affect of divorce on families.
Nevins wanted O'Donnell's participation to bring attention to the film. But that works both ways; O'Donnell grates on some people, primarily conservatives upset with her political views who might not watch "A Family Is a Family Is a Family" because of it.
"I don't feel polarizing," O'Donnell said. "I don't feel incendiary. But there are people who are probably not going to look at it because of that. I feel there are just as many who may TiVo it because of that. I don't know. It's hard to judge what affect you're having when you're just living your life and making your art."
Ultimately, she said, "it's hard to argue with the voices of innocent children telling the truth about their life and love."
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