Date: 1983-03-07

Published: March 7, 1983

''CHILDREN OF PRIDE'' is manipulative and slick, possibly out of place on public television's ''Frontline'' series, and at the same time probably the best thing that ''Frontline'' has done this season. This is an absurd contradiction, of course, explained best by saying that ''Children of Pride'' is so special it scarcely fits any category at all. It will be seen on Channel 13 at 8 o'clock tonight.

The documentary film is the story of Kojo Odo and his 18 adopted children, most of whom were handicapped physically or emotionally or both when Mr. Odo adopted them. It is a weakness of the film that we aren't really told how Mr. Odo, a bachelor, manages to cope with this extraordinary family; in fact, we aren't even told much about Mr. Odo. It is apparent, however, that he is a lovely man.

Mr. Odo and the children live in what appears to be a renovated brownstone on a good street in Harlem. He is about 40; the children are from 5 or 6, say, to the late teens. One child is blind; another has one arm; a third suffers from nephritis, a chronic kidney disease. Whatever the handicaps, the children, all beautiful in their separate ways, seem to flourish.

Obviously, Mr. Odo and the children must go through some bad times -even the most blessed families do -but ''Children of Pride'' isn't really interested in that. Instead, it wants to offer a testimonial to the nurturing power of love and to bear witness to how a single individual, Mr. Odo, can change the world about him. This sounds very much like a cliche, and probably it is. Nonetheless, it is what the film is up to, and it is what it succeeds at wonderfully well.

There is a slickness to some of this: Richie Havens sings on the soundtrack, and at times everything looks like a made-for-television movie. You may also wonder if the film belongs on ''Frontline.'' It is the only weekly documentary series on either public or commercial television, and it is supposed to be exploring the great issues of our time. It is arguable whether Mr. Odo and the children fit into the format.

Still, give a little. Perhaps there is an issue here, after all. There are hundreds of thousands of children in institutions very much like the ones in which Mr. Odo found these children. In adopting them, he gave them new lives, a family, a future. The message is that other people can do the same.

Last Thursday, President Reagan said that television did not tell us enough about the good things in American life. As one good thing, he mentioned voluntarism - where Americans do things for themselves and others that government cannot or will not do for them. The White House should watch ''Children of Pride.'' You should, too. It is worthwhile.


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