Warning! The following contains SPOILERS for Shazam! Read at your own risk.
There's a lot to love about Shazam!, but amongst all the praise for its humor and action, there's one thing I loved about the DC movie above all else that isn't getting a lot of attention. Foster children play a huge part in Shazam!, and the way the film handles each child and the emotions they cope with is a supremely underrated thing this story should be getting more praise for.
I say this as a foster parent who has experienced firsthand and heard several stories from others about how harrowing the foster process can be. Much like Billy and the rest of the siblings, these kids are faced with tough situations very early in life that affects them in entirely different ways. No two kids are alike, and Shazam! shows audiences some of the various ways these kids are shaped in a way that mainstream media doesn't often show.
Take Billy, for example, who has spent a majority of his time in foster homes and running away in hopes of finding his birth mother. Billy is so convinced his mother has no way of finding him that he's leaving good and safe homes (which is not always a guarantee) and ignoring the case worker who suggests the reason she hasn't found him yet is because she's not looking.
What's most important in Shazam! is that it's explicitly clear to the audience why Billy does the things he does. He's not a foster kid acting out because he's ungrateful, misguided or a troublemaker. He legitimately believes his living situations are temporary, and that things will be alright once he finds his mother.
Of course, that's not always the case in foster care, and Billy eventually learns that his mother intentionally left him with the police because she believed he'd be better off without her. She also doesn't think it's a good time to reconnect, and it's more or less implied that she's in no rush to start a relationship with the young hero despite his efforts to find her.
What's important about this arc is that there's an acknowledgement that none of what happened is Billy's fault, which is a message all foster children need to hear regardless of their situation. Billy was affected by his mother's actions, but at the end of the day, she's the one to blame for their separation. Even if the situations aren't the same, any foster child can walk away from this film feeling that their circumstance isn't their own doing.
Another big thing Shazam! gets right about foster kids' emotions is the wide range of ways a child can react to their situation. Each of the kids ended up in the system some way, and each have been shaped by the experience and are coping with it in their own way. One scene in particular that sticks out is Darla's immediate attachment to Billy, and how quick she goes into referring to him as her brother.
The scene gets a big emotional payoff later when Billy tells Darla she doesn't have to call him 'brother,' as they aren't technically a family. Darla is immediately crushed by the statement, and it's the one scene in Shazam! where she could be described as sad. Billy tries to explain to Freddy he didn't mean it to upset her, and Freddy waves him off in an understanding manner while tending to Darla.
It's become one of my favorite scenes of the film because it shows Freddy immediately understands both sides and that no one is at fault. Freddy gets Billy's newcomer status in the family, and the fact that he still has reservations about getting so close to a group of strangers. He also understands Darla's position, and why someone rejecting her offer of inclusion into their foster family is devastating to her.
Freddy has his own problems, as he confesses later to Billy that he's absolutely jealous of his superpowers. Freddy, like most children, just wants to be seen and acknowledged for something other than what he is. No one at the school gives him a lot of acknowledgement, and the ones that do are bullies who frequently tease him for his disability and foster kid status.
Then there's Pedro, Mary and Eugene, who collectively represent another big part of foster kids and Shazam! Mary and Eugene are bright, while Pedro's math test implies he struggles in school. Their personalities are vastly different from each other, and they all seem to have been shaped differently by their varied upbringings.
Someone reading this may think "Well, they're just being portrayed like children," and that's the point. Too often does mass media portray career criminals as "foster children that bounced from home to home" or emotionally fragile kids when there's really not one box to contain them. That's not to say there aren't children who come out of foster care and become two of those prior stereotypes, but there are plenty of children who come out just like the Shazam Family.
These kids are positive role models for a group that, more often than not, is going through things the average child doesn't and shouldn't experience. Many won't complain because it's all they've known, or because they feel uncomfortable doing so in a situation where no one is entirely sure what the future holds for them.
Shazam! can be a great asset to foster families in helping kids and teens in the system tap into those complex feelings, and perhaps serve as a conversation starter into some deeper topics. It's also just a great film that can reinforce to a child in the system that they are special, and that their situation doesn't mean they're destined to become any one thing.
It's why I'm hoping that while the ending of Shazam! established Billy as a part of the Vasquez's foster family, themes relating to foster care continue in Shazam! 2. While Billy's mother didn't seem to want anything to do with him, it would be cool if they had some form of relationship down the road, however complicated that may be. There's also Billy's father who is in prison, so something could be done with him down the road as well.