An annotated list of films relevant to the study of U.S. immigration.

America, America

America, America (film)(1963): Directed by Kazan, EliaElia Kazan, this film is based on the life of Kazan’s uncle Stavros, a Greek youth living in the Ottoman Empire during the late nineteenth century. He is sent to Constantinople, Turkey;in films[films]Turkey, because his family believes he will have a better life, but he dreams only of coming to America. Stavros eventually immigrates to New York, where his family and young nephew Elia later join him. Some little-known history, the plight of the minority Greeks within the Ottoman Empire, is spotlighted. These people, along with members of the empire’s other ethnic minorities, such as the Armenian immigrants;in films[films]Armenians, were severely discriminated against in their home countries. Many thousands found emigration their only hope for better lives. The Academy Award-winning Ottoman-born director Kazan was himself a shining example of a successful adjustment to a new country.Films

An American Tail

American Tail, An (film)(1986): By means of clever animation, the journey of an immigrant from Russia to the United States is sometimes amusingly–but often darkly–portrayed in this film directed by Don Bluth. In a parody of the immigrant belief that the streets of America were paved with gold, a mouse named Fievel Mousekewitz believes that there are no cats in the United States, whose streets are paved with cheese. However, Fievel discovers that cats (stand-ins for murderous Cossacks in Russia) are, in fact, present in his new country, though they now represent other kinds of adversaries. The fact that this film is animated makes it no less illustrative of the hardships, including poverty and discrimination, that Jews and other immigrants encountered when they came to America.


Avalon (film)(1990): Directed by Levinson, BarryBarry Levinson, this film realistically portrays the tensions created by the gradual disintegration of a once close-knit nuclear family after it immigrates to America. A Russian Jewish family that has immigrated to Baltimore during the early part of the twentieth century begins to drift apart over time, despite the efforts of its stern and increasingly unyielding patriarch to keep it together. He finds his control over the family is dissipating as younger members adopt values that he cannot accept. In his view, they have become too Americanized. His desire to retain the values of his native land creates tensions with his descendants, who no longer want to obey their elders or live in the way their parents wish them to live.

The Betrayal

Betrayal,The (film)(Nerakhoon) (2008): This Oscar-nominated documentary that took more than twenty years to bring to the screen depicts a Laotian immigrants;in films[films]Laotian family fleeing their homeland after the father was arrested by Laos’s communist government for helping the American military during its Vietnam War-era clandestine operations. Ultimately, the man’s wife and ten children make their way to a United States that they have been led to believe is “one step away from heaven.” However, they find that their hoped-for refuge is a dangerous and divisive place for their family. Their first home in Brooklyn is adjacent to a crack house. The film presents a convincing picture of how Culture shock;in films[films]culture shock can affect an immigrant family. One of the sons (the codirector of the film, Phrasavath, ThavisoukThavisouk Phrasavath) worries that “in living in America we are losing ourselves.”

The Black Legion

Black Legion, The (film)(1937): A blue-collar machinist Bogart, Humphrey(Humphrey Bogart) becomes enraged when a Polish immigrant gets the foreman job that he wants. He joins an anti-immigrant hate group called the Black Legion–modeled on the Ku Klux Klan–that terrorizes the immigrant and his family into leaving town. Eventually the xenophobic machinist’s involvement in this organization leads to his own downfall. This exciting Warner Bros. film tackles the consequences of anti-immigrant prejudice in the hard-hitting, gritty style for which the studio was famous during the 1930’s.

The Border

Border, The (film)(1982): Over the years, a border guard Nicholson, Jack(Jack Nicholson) has grown callous about the treatment of Mexican immigrants attempting to cross the border illegally. He gradually regains his humanity in the face of a young Mexican woman’s tragedy. A realistic and sensitive depiction of the vast problems faced by both sides in what is frequently an immigration nightmare, the film shows how immigrants frequently rely on paid “coyotes” to get them across the border undetected. They are sometimes injured or killed in the attempt. Faced with a torrent of undocumented immigrants, border guards struggle to retain their humanity and accomplish a most difficult job at the same time.

Born in East L.A.

Born in East L.A.(film)(1987): A native-born Mexican American Marin, Cheech(Cheech Marin) is caught up in a raid on a factory by immigration authorities and is sent to Mexico when he cannot prove his U.S. citizenship. His attempts to return to the United States are dealt with largely through comic means, including his inability to speak Spanish. During his struggle to return he finds solace in helping Mexican nationals seeking to enter the United States and learns that the apparent ethnicity of persons is frequently the basis for how others judge them. Although basically a comedy, the film is also a poignant account of the protagonist’s growing understanding of the tribulations that immigrants face. See also full essay in main text.

Bread and Roses

Bread and Roses (film)(2000): Two sisters from Latin America who are in Los Angeles illegally are victimized in their workplace by being denied decent wages, working conditions, and benefits. They lead an attempt to unionize cleaning women and janitors in the face of mounting threats from exploitive managers. There is the ever-present threat of being denounced to la migra (the immigration authorities) and being deported, but they continue their struggle. Although a fictionalized treatment, the film is realistic in its account of how immigrants, particularly those who do not possess the “papers” to live legally in the United States, are often exploited.

Catfish in Black Bean Sauce

Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (film)(1999): An African American couple Adoption;in films[films]adopts a Vietnamese brother and sister. The boy assimilates quickly into his new milieu, but his sister misses the home she knew as a child and contacts their tradition-bound birth mother. When the mother arrives in the United States, she attempts to reassert her authority over her children. As the film’s symbolic title suggests, admixtures of cultures may sometimes result in different cultures blending easily. However, in this case the mix does not prove to be so easy. The Vietnamese mother’s arrival shows the discomfited adoptive parents just how wide ethnic differences can be.

Crossing Over

Crossing Over (film)(2009): A veritable laundry list of immigration-related issues is dealt with in the several plot lines of this film. Immigrants of different nationalities experience problems ranging from obtaining green cards to seeking political asylum and experiencing culture clashes. The work of customs and immigration officials (one played by Harrison Ford) is portrayed both sympathetically and unsympathetically.

A Day Without a Mexican

Day Without a Mexican, A (film)(2004): Although this is a broad comic satire that sometimes misses the mark, it is nonetheless thought provoking. One day Californians awaken to find they can neither communicate beyond the state’s borders nor leave California. They then discover that all the Mexicans have vanished from the state, leaving the state’s economy to grind to a halt. Only then do Californians appreciate what Mexican laborers and professionals–both legal and undocumented–have contributed to their lives.

El Norte

El Norte (film)(1983): A GuatemalanGuatemalan immigrants;in films[films] brother and sister undergo a harrowing trek to the United States as illegal immigrants after their village is destroyed by a government that seeks to destroy the native Indian population. The siblings make their way with the help of “Coyotes”[coyotes];in films[films]“coyotes” (smugglers). After a journey that includes crawling through a rat-infested tunnel, they arrive in the United States. At first, it appears the illiterate pair will succeed in the United States against considerable odds; however, they ultimately endure tragedy. This is a powerful film that graphically depicts the hazards to undocumented aliens of both reaching the United States and what may happen after they arrive. Directed by Nava, GregoryGregory Nava, the film was selected by the Library of Congress as part of its prestigious National Film Registry.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island (film)(1984): With the effective support of such high-powered actors as Richard Burton, Liam Neeson, and Faye Dunaway, this appealing television miniseries follows the saga of four immigrants from the turn of the twentieth century through World War I. An Italian, a Russian Jew, and two Irish sisters all experience dire poverty and eventually rise to lead successful lives, but at what cost? Although sometimes melodramatic, the program shows the sacrifices and struggles that immigrants endure to succeed in a strange country, even if they have to compromise some of their “old country” values.

The Emigrants

Swedish immigrants;in films[films]Emigrants, The (film)(Utvandrarna) (1971) and The New Land New Land, The (film)(Nybyggarna) (1972): Together, these masterfully produced Swedish films encompass the saga of a family’s life in Sweden and subsequent emigration to the United States. Both star the distinguished actors Von Sydow, MaxMax Von Sydow and Ullmann, LivLiv Ullmann. The Emigrants depicts the family’s bare existence on a small Swedish farm during the 1850’s until hunger finally forces them to emigrate. After a grueling ten-week voyage on a sailing ship, they reach America and establish themselves on the unforgiving Minnesota prairie. In The New Land they find life has improved for them, but hard times, including family tragedies, continue to be their lot. Directed by Troell, JanJan Troell, the beautifully photographed films are almost epochal in their portrayal of the lives of poor immigrant farmers striving to cope with life in a strange country.

Far and Away

Far and Away (film)(1992): Directed by Howard, RonRon Howard, this occasionally improbable film depicts the hardships that a pair of immigrants (Cruise, TomTom Cruise andKidman, NicoleNicole Kidman) undergo to realize their dreams in the United States. The hopelessness of his life impels a poor Irish tenant farmer to emigrate during the 1890’s. However, even after he is settled in Boston, he remains mired in poverty. Ultimately, his lifelong dream to possess his own land leads him to the Oklahoma land rush of 1893. With a sometimes epic sweep, the film tries to encapsulate much of the immigrant saga, effectively utilizing the landscapes of Ireland and the American Southwest.

Forbidden Passage

Forbidden Passage (film)(1941): An entry in MGM’s popular Crime Does Not Pay series, this Oscar-nominated short film purports to show how the Immigration and Naturalization Service strove to put a halt to the Smuggling of immigrants;and federal law[federal law]illegal smuggling of immigrants from Europe before the United States entered World War II. A boatload of European refugees is being smuggled to Florida via Central America. (One their number is played by Hugh Beaumont of Leave It to Beaver fame.) When the ship is challenged by American customs officials, the villainous smugglers toss many of the immigrants overboard to drown. Although it is melodramatic, the film documents a little-remembered aspect of World War II: the desperate efforts of many Europeans to escape the war and reach the United States.

Gangs of New York

Irish immigrants;in films[films]Gangs of New York (film)(2002): The slums of mid-nineteenth century New York are colorfully reproduced by director Scorsese, MartinMartin Scorsese in this highly charged story of gang warfare between native-born New Yorkers and Irish immigrants, which stars DiCaprio, LeonardoLeonardo DiCaprio, Lewis, Daniel DayDaniel Day Lewis, and Neeson, LiamLiam Neeson. It begins in 1846, during one of the peaks of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, and concludes almost twenty years later during the U.S. Civil War. It records the violence that was often used against immigrants by so-called nativists who feared, among other things, the economic impact of the new arrivals.

The Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper, The (film)(2002): A racist border guard is frequently brutal with the undocumented immigrants he deals with at the border with Mexico. He even joins a vigilante group that is involved in drug activities. Eventually he reconnects with his own unacknowledged Hispanic heritage and realizes that the immigrants are as much human beings as he is. The film depicts the sometimes deplorable treatment of undocumented immigrants by “Coyotes”[coyotes];in films[films]“coyote” smugglers and border guards. Directed by Frey, John CarlosJohn Carlos Frey, who also wrote the film’s script and played the lead role.

The Girl Who Spelled Freedom

Cambodian immigrants;in films[films]Girl Who Spelled Freedom, The (film)(1986): A Cambodian immigrant girl finds personal success in the United States when she becomes a champion in school spelling bees. Her family, having survived Cambodia’s horrific communist regime, was sponsored to immigrate to the United States. The family’s older members find it difficult to adjust and learn English, but the children thrive in a free environment. This television drama may be somewhat sentimental, but its portrayal of immigrant children working ceaselessly to succeed rings true.

The Godfather

(1972)Godfather films, The Godfather, Part 2 (1974), and The Godfather, Part 3 (1990): This trilogy offers a sweeping epic of the American immigrant dream perverted. The Godfather and its first sequel, The Godfather Part 2, delve into the lives of Italian immigrant Vito Corleone and his three sons (played by James Caan, Al Pacino, and John Cazale). Vito Corleone (Brando, MarlonMarlon Brando in the first Godfather and De Niro, RobertRobert De Niro in Part 2) immigrates to the United States from Italy and after many years becomes a top crime figure. He continues to adhere to the so-called “honor” code he has brought from his native country, but it eventually leads to his family’s destruction.

Part 2

shifts back and forth in time, between the periods preceding and following the narrative of the first film. Beginning in 1901, it shows young Vito’s arrival at Ellis Island;in films[films]Ellis Island, his first years as a poor immigrant in Manhattan’s Little Italies;in Godfather films[Godfather films]Little Italy, and his ultimate rise to power. Part 3 depicts the downfall of the dynasty with the lonely demise of Michael Corleone (Pacino, AlAl Pacino), Vito’s youngest son, in Italy. The family history has now come full circle. The impact of the first two films is stunningly dramatic; they have been aptly compared to the Greek tragedies. One of the most powerful aspects is the irony that America has opened its doors to a friendless immigrant and he repays the boon by unloosing murder and corruption on his adoptive country. See also full essay in main text.

The Golden Venture

Golden Venture, The (film)(2006): This documentary film deals with a subject not often seen on theater screens. In 1993, the ironically named ship Golden Venture went aground near New York City and was found to be carrying 276 Chinese men trying to enter the United States illegally. They had each paid at least $30,000 to be Smuggling of immigrants;Chinesesmuggled into the United States. Possibly because this incident occurred shortly after the first World Trade Center bombing, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) seemed particularly punitive in this case. Some of the passengers were detained for up to four years or deported back to China to face unknown fates. The film is not objective, but it does provoke viewers to think about the fairness of American immigration policy.

Gran Torino

Hmong immigrants;in films[films]Gran Torino (film)(2008): When a curmudgeonly Korean War veteran (Eastwood, ClintClint Eastwood, who also directed) sees his Michigan city become a haven for Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia, all his prejudices come to the fore. He believes that these newcomers and their “strange” customs have no place not only in his neighborhood, but also in the United States. When the immigrants try to befriend him, he responds with racial epithets. A crisis finally brings him to the realization that his neighbors share a common humanity. Although the film is somewhat far-fetched at times, it deals with an immigrant group that is not often in the spotlight, and it respectfully depicts the culture of their native regions.

Green Card

Green Card (film)(1990): An obstacle facing many immigrants who wish to reside in the United States is obtaining the “green card” that legally sanctions their residency. One such would-be immigrant’s challenge is presented in this hit romantic comedy directed by Weir, PeterPeter Weir. A Frenchman Depardieu, Gerard(Gérard Depardieu) is offered a job in the United States; to get his green card so he can take that job, he“Marriages of convenience”[Marriages of convenience];in films[films]fraudulently marries an American woman (MacDowell, AndieAndie MacDowell). The woman has her own reason for marrying him: renting an apartment that is available only to married couples. The INS becomes rightfully suspicious of the marriage, and complications ensue while the couple actually do fall in love with each other. See also full essay in main text.

Green Card Fever

Asian Indian immigrants;in films[films]Green Card Fever (film)(2003): In this small-budget version of 1990’s popular Green Card, a young man from India has overstayed his visa and is seeking a wife so he can obtain a green card to remain in the United States. After tangling with shady Immigration lawyers;in films[films]immigration lawyers and the INS, he finds true romance with an American woman of Indian heritage.

Hester Street

Jewish immigrants;in films[films]Hester Street (film)(1975): Films depicting the Jewish immigrant experience were relatively rare when this picture was made. Set around the turn of the twentieth century, it shows the growing division between an Americanized immigrant (Keats, StevenSteven Keats) and his newly arrived “greenhorn” wife (Kane, CarolCarol Kane), who retains the ways of Russia. It realistically depicts the tensions that develop in the marriage when neither partner seems willing to get used to the “foreign” ways of the other–an apparently common occurrence in immigrant communities of that era.

House of Sand and Fog

House of Sand and Fog (film)(2003): This poignant, highly dramatic film depicts the results of an extreme clash of cultures precipitated when a proud Iranian immigrants;in films[films]Iranian immigrant (Kingsley, BenBen Kingsley) buys the home of a woman (Jennifer Connolly) who has lost it because of unpaid taxes. The man’s cultural upbringing leads him to treat her problem as unimportant. She, in turn, lacks understanding of the immigrant’s desire to better his life. This conflict leads to a denouement of almost Greek tragedy proportions. Enhancing the drama is a strong undercurrent of anti-immigrant prejudice. Aghdashoo, ShourehShoureh Aghdashoo, who plays the immigrant’s wife, was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.

I Remember Mama

Norwegian immigrants;in films[films]I Remember Mama (film)(1948): A warmhearted and memorable film about a family of Norwegian immigrants living in San Francisco around the year 1910, starring Dunne, IreneIrene Dunne as the indomitable matriarch of the film’s title and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. The film’s strength lies mainly in the portrayal of Mama’s daily struggle to keep her family financially afloat while coping with the inevitable generational differences that are developing. This feel-good film led to an equally popular television series. See also full essay in main text.

The Immigrant

Chaplin, CharlesI (film)mmigrant, The(1917): Charles Chaplin starred in and directed this famous comedy short, which mixes slapstick comedy and sentimentality in equal measures. A bedraggled group of apparently eastern European immigrants is approaching the Statue of Liberty;in films[films]Statue of Liberty on a tub-like ship that is fiercely pitching and rolling. Chaplin’s tramp character helps a young woman and her mother; over the course of the film, he falls in love with the younger woman. Although played for comedy, the portrayal of the distressed passengers seems quite authentic, given that the great wave of immigration had ebbed not many years before the film was made. Chaplin himself had immigrated from England only a few years earlier so was undoubtedly empathetic in his sensitive handling of the immigrants’ plight. See also full essay in main text.

In America

Irish immigrants;in films[films]In America (film)(2002): Many films depict Irish immigrants from earlier times; this is one of the few set in the modern era. An actor who hopes to work in the United States and his family enter the United States from Canada illegally. Already riven by family tragedy, they end up in a rundown tenement and are befriended by an African immigrant. They initially instinctively fear this man but eventually come to recognize they have a great deal in common with him as fellow strangers in a strange land. Directed by the well-respected Irishman Sheridan, JimJim Sheridan.

The Joy Luck Club

Joy Luck Club, The (film)(1993): Based on the bestselling novel of the same title by Tan, AmyAmy Tan, this film examines the generation gap between parents who have immigrated from China and their American-born offspring in San Francisco. Exacerbating the usual generational stresses between mothers and daughters is the elders’ insistence that the children adhere to the rigid Chinese customs that they have brought with them. An ultimately positive portrait, it nevertheless is a sharp-eyed look at what happens when old-country mores clash with American culture.

Lana’s Rain

Bosnian immigrants;in films[films]Lana’s Rain (film)[Lanas Rain (film)](2004): This small, independent film depicts the dark side of an immigrant’s “American Dream”[American Dream]American dream. To escape the war raging in Bosnia during the mid-1990’s, a brother and sister stow away on a ship and settle in Chicago illegally. Because their undocumented status prevents them from working in the open, they turn to crime, including prostitution, to survive. The only minimally bright spot is their friendship with a Chinese immigrant with whom they can barely communicate.

Lost Boys of Sudan

Sudanese immigrants;in films[films]Lost Boys of Sudan (film)(2003): A well-received documentary film that records the improbable saga of two young orphaned Sudanese boys as they transition from life in a war-torn country to suburban America. After surviving a cross-country trek in Africa of hundreds of miles, a lion attack, and rogue militias, the boys join thousands of other children in a refugee camp. It is from there that the boys are chosen to immigrate to Houston, Texas, and eventually separate. The culture of their new country is so alien to them that they face unanticipated problems, including racial discrimination.

Made in L.A.

Made in L.A (film) (2007): Like Bread and Roses, this film concerns three Latina immigrants working under Garment industry;in films[films]Sweatshops;in films[films]sweatshop conditions in Los Angeles; however, it is a documentary about their struggle for workplace improvements. The three women labor in a factory that makes clothing for an up-market retailer that exploits its employees. One of the film’s major strengths is its intimate depiction of each woman and the changes each undergoes during their fight for better working conditions.

Mississippi Masala

Mississippi Masala (film)(1992): When a Asian Indian immigrants;in films[films]well-off Indian family is expelled from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin during the 1970’s, they immigrate to a Mississippi town to start over. Among their problems is acculturating to a southern society that regards them as merely another undesirable minority–the same attitude they had faced in East Africa. When the daughter falls in love with an African American working man Washington, Denzel(Denzel Washington), many forms of prejudice come out into the open.

The Molly Maguires

Irish immigrants;in films[films]Molly Maguires, The (film)(1970): During the mid-1870’s, a secret society of Irish immigrant coal miners, whose ringleader is played by Connery, SeanSean Connery, deal with exploitative mine owners by sabotaging the mines. Another Irish immigrant is sent to infiltrate the group and bring them to justice. The question is whether he will carry out his assignment or fall in with the saboteurs. Based on events that actually occurred in the Pennsylvania coalfields.

Moscow on the Hudson

Russian immigrants;in films[films]Moscow on the Hudson (film)(1984): Williams, RobinRobin Williams plays a Russian circus musician who defects in a New York department store while the circus is on an American tour. Aided by some unlikely friends, he eventually attempts to establish a musical career in New York. His life after he defects is better than it was in Russia but far from what he dreamed it might be.

My Boy

My Boy (film)(1921): A Coogan, Jackieyoung boy (Jackie Coogan) is orphaned when his mother dies on the ship bringing them to New York as immigrants. He escapes deportation when he is accidentally released from Ellis Island;in films[films]Ellis Island with another family group. After being tracked down by his wealthy grandmother and helped by sympathetic immigration officials, he eventually finds happiness. This film is interesting for its portrayal of Ellis Island during the second decade of the twentieth century, when the last major wave of European immigration was coming to a close.

My Family/Mi Familia

My Family/Mi Familia (film)(1995): Directed by Nava, GregoryGregory Nava and featuring actors Lopez, JenniferJennifer Lopez and Smits, JimmyJimmy Smits, this film follows the lives of three generations of Mexican Americans living in the barrios of East Los Angeles, beginning with the grandparents, who immigrate during the 1930’s and immediately encounter the anti-immigrant prejudices of that time.

My Girl Tisa

My Girl Tisa (film)(1948): Hungarian immigrants;in films[films]In 1905, a young Hungarian immigrant (Palmer, LilliLilli Palmer) works in a New York Garment industry;in films[films]garment factory to earn enough money to bring her father to the United States. Her boss is studying for his citizenship test. When the girl’s deportation is ordered, no less a personage than President Roosevelt, Theodore[p]Roosevelt, Theodore;in films[films]Theodore Roosevelt steps in to save her. Although it contains some dramatic license, this little-known film provides a fairly realistic look at the daily lives of poor immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York.

The Namesake

Asian Indian immigrants;in films[films]Namesake, The (film)(2006): Lavishly produced, this absorbing film is based on a bestselling novel of the same title by Lahiri, JhumpaJhumpa Lahiri. Following an arranged marriage, two young immigrants from India settle in the United States and have a son whose nickname is Gogol. The story then focuses on Gogol’s attempts at being completely American. His priorities shift with the death of his father and reel him back into his parents’ first-generation experience. The film ends ambiguously, however, as Gogol’s traditional marriage falls apart, clearly demonstrating that he cannot find his footing in either culture.

Picture Bride

Picture Bride (film)(1994): “Picture brides”[picture brides];in films[films]Japanese immigrants;”picture brides”[picture brides]During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thousands of Japanese women came to Hawaii and the United States to marry Japanese men they had never seen. In this film, a young women arrives in Hawaii to discover that her intended husband is much older and poorer than he has led her to believe in his letter. She spends a long time trying to save enough money to return to Japan before realizing that her new life might work out after all. This is an interesting portrayal of an aspect of immigration history that is seldom portrayed onscreen.


Popi (film)(1969): This heartwarming film gently satirizes U.S. immigration policies of the late 1960’s. A Puerto Rican immigrants;in films[films]Puerto Rican father (Arkin, AlanAlan Arkin) struggles to make a bare living for his two young sons. Upon hearing how well refugees from Cuba are being treated in the United States, he arranges to have his sons pose as Cubans who have been washed ashore, hoping they will be showered with American bounty. When the real-life Cuban refugee González, EliánGonzález, Elián;and film Popi[film Popi]Elián González made news some thirty years later, the similarities of his case to the story of Popi were remarked upon.


Saved (film)(2009): A young man who is being held in detention by the INS claims to be an Asylum, political;in films[films]Iranian immigrants;in films[films]Iranian who was persecuted in his own country. He is seeking asylum, but U.S. immigration authorities are suspicious of his claim and are ready to deport him. He is finally released to a young couple willing to sponsor him but who themselves begin to doubt his story. This television drama, while tending to the melodramatic, does illustrate the seemingly hopeless binds in which many immigrants find themselves when they cannot prove their status.

Sentenced Home

Cambodian immigrants;in films[films]Sentenced Home (film)(2007): Cambodians are not often featured on American film screens. This compelling documentary follows three Cambodian youths who are brought to the United States during the 1980’s as permanent residents in the wake of the massacres by their homeland’s communist government. Because they become involved in minor crimes, the INS deports two of them, as the third fights to remain in the United States. Their stories make for a riveting film that is ultimately critical of American immigration policies.

Sewing Woman

Sewing Woman (film)(1983): In this Oscar-nominated short documentary film, filmmakers Dong, ArthurDong, LisaArthur and Lisa Dong Garment industry;in films[films]Chinese immigrants;in films[films]recount their mother’s difficult journey from a village in rural China to the garment factories of San Francisco. Her arduous experiences with both Chinese authorities upon her departure and the U.S. immigration authorities on her arrival are related, as well as her attempts to cope with the culture of a strange country. The incorporation of rare home movies and footage of rural China and San Francisco’s Chinatown combine to make this a noteworthy film that has remained highly regarded.

The Stars Are Singing

Stars Are Singing, The (film)(1953): Italian singer Polish immigrants;in films[films]Alberghetti, Anna MariaAnna Maria Alberghetti plays a Polish girl who jumps ship to enter the United States illegally. As INS officers search for her, she finds sanctuary with an opera singer (Lauritz Melchior) and a pop vocalist (Rosemary Clooney). However, just as she receives her first big break, she is discovered by the immigration authorities and is threatened with deportation back to communist Poland. This tune-filled film is a rare musical film with an immigration theme.

Strangers in a Promised Land

Strangers in a Promised Land (film)(1984): Narrated by former California governor Deukmejian, GeorgeGeorge Deukmejian, himself of Armenian immigrants;in films[films]Armenian descent, this hour-long documentary traces Armenian settlement in Fresno, California, through the previous century. Beginning with the first Armenians to arrive in Fresno during the 1880’s, the film effectively depicts their initial hardships, including contending with prejudice, and their eventual realization of the American Dream.

Sweet Land

Sweet Land (film)(2005): A young German German immigrants;in films[films]Mail-order brides[mail order brides];in films[films]mail-order bride arrives in Minnesota in 1919 to marry a Norwegian farmer who does not know her background. When he and other members of their small community discover her nationality, the marriage is jeopardized as the woman becomes a victim of the antipathy toward Germans following World War I. This beautifully photographed and poignant film deals with an era and a situation not often pictured onscreen.

Telling Lies in America

Telling Lies in America (film)(1997): A teenage Hungarian immigrants;in films[films]Hungarian immigrant to Cleveland (Renfro, BradBrad Renfro) is having problems adjusting to American culture during the 1970’s, so he models himself on a popular but unscrupulous radio disc jockey (Kevin Bacon) to appear “cool” to his peers. Eventually, he realizes that he is on the wrong track. This is an unusual but sometimes worthwhile look at the problem of acculturation.

The Terminal

Terminal, The (film)(2004): Steven Spielberg directed this film about an early twenty-first century man (Hanks, TomTom Hanks) who is suddenly and literally a man without a country. When he arrives at a New York airport he learns that his unnamed eastern European country no longer exists. This fact voids his passport, so he cannot enter the United States. However, because he cannot be deported anywhere, he appears to be doomed to remain at the airport forever. This is a thought-provoking film about the nature of citizenship and, in somewhat exaggerated fashion, mirrors the plight of some immigrants who can spend years in legal limbo.

Under the Same Moon

Under the Same Moon (film)(La Misma Luna) (2007): The depiction of the dislocation and heartbreak caused by family separation and unfeeling immigration policy is the major strength of this film. A Mexican immigrants;in films[films]Mexican woman is working illegally in the United States as a housecleaner. Her young son crosses the border illegally, after several misadventures, to find her. They are under the “same moon” but may as well be a million miles apart.

The Visitor

Visitor, The (film)(2007): Syrian immigrants;in films[films]A college Jenkins, Richardprofessor (Richard Jenkins) finds an undocumented couple–a Syrian man and a Senegalese woman–living in his seldom-visited New York apartment. At first indifferent to their plight, he eventually befriends and tries to help them. However, he is unable to keep the young man from being deported by the immigration authorities. This film has a very definite viewpoint in its portrayal of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as a cold and bureaucratic institution unmoved by humane considerations. Jenkins received an Oscar nomination for his performance.

West Side Story

West Side Story (film)Puerto Rican immigrants;West Side Story (1961): Adapted from a Broadway musical loosely based on William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet (1595-1596), this Oscar-winning film revolves around the rivalry of two New York City street gangs–the Anglo-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Tensions between the gangs become lethal at the same time Tony (Richard Beymer) a former member of the Jets is falling in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of the Sharks leader who is recently arrived from Puerto Rico. The film pays considerable attention to the challenges faced by Puerto Rican immigrants, whose love-hate relationship with the United States is given a poignant musical voice in “America,” a call-and-response song in which multiple characters compare life in America with life in Puerto Rico. The film’s ten Oscars included best picture and a best-supporting-actress award for Moreno, RitaRita Moreno, who is herself a Puerto Rican immigrant.Films