Alumna’s Memoir Headed to the Big Screen

USC couldn’t be more proud of MSW@USC alumna Ashley Rhodes-Courter and her news that her New York Times best-selling memoir is headed to the big screen. The critically acclaimed Three Little Words details the horrors Rhodes-Courter faced in the foster care system living in 14 different homes and often dealing with horribly abusive foster families and social workers.

Despite the common misconception that older children in the foster care system are permanently “damaged” from their difficult experiences, Rhodes-Courter was adopted by loving parents at age 12, and finally found peace and comfort. Her adoption was a result of the tireless efforts of an unpaid volunteer who worked to find and persuade her biological mother to give up her parental rights.

Her personal experiences led her to pen Three Little Words, which represent the words she uttered to the court when she was asked if she wanted to be adopted: “I guess so.” This marked a new beginning for Rhodes-Courter, one that allowed her to leave behind years of abuse.

Hollywood Comes Calling

Five years after its publication, Three Little Words is set to be a big-screen feature, attracting A-list talent including screenwriters Lewis Colick (The Fighter) and Michael Petroni (The Book Thief), and director James Mangold, who is most famous for the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.

Mangold will reunite with Reese Witherspoon, who won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her portrayal of June Cash Carter in Walk the Line. Witherspoon is slated to play the role of the unpaid volunteer while Amanda Seyfried is in talks to be cast as Rhodes-Courter’s biological mother.

Education and Advocacy

While other children in the foster care system might end up bitter and angry, Rhodes-Courter proves the opposite can be true with the power of education, storytelling and self-conviction. Her personal story stands as a powerful testimony, valuable resource and beacon of hope for those struggling in the foster care system and for those wanting to understand the system’s issues. One School, One Book, a program that encourages school communities to read together, used Three Little Words in its reading curriculum for these reasons.

As an undergraduate student at Eckerd College, Rhodes-Courter was chosen by USA Today, along with 20 other students, for her academic accomplishments, and received one of four Golden Brick awards for “her outstanding advocacy for community change.” In 2012, Rhodes-Courter received her master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California. Education, she says, is “the one thing no one can take away from me.”

Rhodes-Courter is an active advocate for reform in the foster care system and is a popular public speaker for social workers and families. In her speeches, she unflinchingly describes foster parents who abuse the system and seeks to educate social workers, who, she says, often act only on behalf of foster parents, rather than for the sake of the children whom they are supposed to represent.

In addition, Rhodes-Courter traveled with a congressional delegation visiting foster care sites in Florida, which paved the way for her 2012 campaign to run for a Florida Senate office. “Right now, I’m just laying the foundation for a lot of different options. Either way, these issues are something I’m going to talk about, speak about, write about. Because it’s who I am, it’s where I came from,” she said in a candid interview with HowStuffWorks.

Evidently, she has made a name for herself by bravely and triumphantly shedding light on many issues within the foster care system that still need further attention. “I won’t always be Little Orphan Ashley. But again, it’s where I came from. So it’s my job to try to make it better,” Rhodes-Courter said.

Without a doubt, she is succeeding in doing just that.