LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rosie O'Donnell realizes she is often a polarizing figure. So that's why she let some children do the talking in a TV documentary on the changing face of the American family.
Adopted children, kids with same-sex parents, test-tube babies, children who live with grandparents and those of mixed heritage bring their own, sometimes quirky, wisdom to "A Family Is a Family Is a Family", which premieres on HBO on Sunday.
The 40-minute documentary celebrates a range of families that diverge from the norm of mom, dad and two biological kids. And although O'Donnell makes a brief appearance, the lesbian and gay rights campaigner says that's not the point.
"It is hard to argue with a child's perspective of the world. I thought a child could speak truth in a way that no adult ever could," said O'Donnell, 47, the executive producer of the documentary.
"I think people often have an extreme response to me, either positive or negative. So the idea was to get myself out of the way. I think a taste of me in a stew of others is probably enough. I don't want to be the meal. I'd like to be one of the chopped-up carrots next to the chopped-up celery," the actress, comedian and talk-show host told Reuters.
Music, interviews and cartoons, including animated sperm in top hats serenading a fluffy egg to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "Too Marvelous for Words," help create a portrait of families that challenge traditional stereotypes.
The documentary airs half-way through a landmark court hearing in San Francisco on the constitutional rights of gay men and women wanting to marry in California.
One of the key issues in the case is whether the U.S. government has a reasonable justification for denying same-sex marriage, such as promoting healthier families.
The timing of the documentary is sheer coincidence, albeit a happy one, O'Donnell said.
"It is not trying to persuade anyone. It is just, come and look at this and open your heart and mind...It is really to say that every family deserves respect and equality and validation in society legally, spiritually and morally."
Or as Becky, who is adopted and lives with her two dads, says in the film, "It doesn't matter if you have one parent. It doesn't matter if you have two moms. It doesn't matter if you have two dads. Just stick with it. A family is a family."
O'Donnell says she hopes to provide the documentary to interested schools in a bid to reach children who rarely see their family situations reflected in the mainstream media.
O'Donnell, who came out publicly as a lesbian in 2002, shows home video of her own brood of three adopted kids and one born via artificial insemination to her longtime girlfriend Kelli Carpenter, with whom she quietly broke up during the summer.
Including her family, despite the split with Carpenter, was a decision that came toward the end of filming.
"I thought, 'how do we incorporate this without exploiting it?'. I think we found the right balance," she said. "I think the greatest thing you can teach your child is how to deal with adversity, because that's what life is full of."
O'Donnell told Oprah Winfrey in an interview broadcast on Monday that she and Carpenter still co-parent their four kids.
But O'Donnell's family is about to get bigger, and even more unconventional. She told Winfrey she plans to move in with new girlfriend, artist Tracy Kachtick-Anders, who has five adopted kids of various races and one biological son who has Down Syndrome.
"Can you imagine?," O'Donnell asked Winfrey.
"No," replied Winfrey, who is childless.
"I know," said O'Donnell. "A lot of people can't."
Editing by Dean Goodman and Bob Tourtellotte