The images of ethnic immigrants in Hollywood feature films change with changing attitudes and also help in producing changes in their audience’s attitudes. For the most part, ethnic images early on were used for comic effect, but over the years the immigrants’ images and their plights have been more realistically and sympathetically portrayed on the screen.
Of the films made during the early silent era only a few dealt explicitly with immigration. One of the first was
Another silent film of note is
At the end of the silent era
Where Is My Child?
In a lighter vein the
My Girl Tisa
The most upbeat of the immigration-themed films during this period was
There were few significant films about immigration during the 1960’s, but beginning with the 1970’s there were dozens of films involving not only Jews, Mexicans, and Italians but also Indians, Hondurans, Iranians, and Swedes.
Perhaps the best 1970’s film about Jewish immigrants is
Corleone family posing during the wedding scene early in the first Godfather film. The Godfather, Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the second man from the right. One of the acknowledged strengths of the Godfather films is their rich depictions of Italian American families.
After becoming settled in America, Italian immigrants encountered problems not only in assimilation, but also in exploitation:
The Scandinavians, Irish, and
The Manions of America
The U.S.-Mexican border has been the subject of many Hollywood films. The cowboy film hero
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Under the Same Moon
In a more somber vein, the cultural clash depicted in House of Sand and Fog (2003) is the tragic tale of an
Another tragic film involving a cultural clash is director
While many of the immigration films focus on Ellis Island, the poverty of the ghettos, the exploitation of immigrants, and the problems of assimilation and do tend to stereotype immigrant groups, later films are more sympathetic and realistic in the ways in which individual immigrants are portrayed. The characters have different customs, but they are also real people with many of the same problems native-born Americans face.
Girgus, Sam B. America on Film: Modernism, Documentary, and a Changing America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Demonstrates how American films both reflect and produce stories about national ideologies and identities. Hamilton, Marsha J., and Eleanore S. Black. Projecting Ethnicity and Race: An Annotated Bibliography of Studies on Imagery in American Film. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Indispensable, comprehensive guide to films about ethnicity and race, including immigration issues. Mangione, Jerre, and Ben Morreale. La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian-American Experience. New York: Harper, 1993. Interesting account of how post-World War II Hollywood films fueled prejudice against Italians by resurrecting the Italian Mafia image of the 1890’s. Puleo, Stephen. The Boston Italians: A Story of Pride, Perseverance, and Paesani from the Year of the Great Immigration to the Present Day. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008. Touches on films about Italian immigrants. Rogin, Michael. Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Discusses how Jewish studio heads evaded the issue of anti-Semitism by eliminating Jews from the screen. They allowed Jews to play African Americans but not themselves. Torranes, Thomas. The Magic Curtain: The Mexican-American Border in Fiction, Film, and Song. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2002. Contains an invaluable list of films dealing with the border crossing between Mexico and the United States. Winokur, Mark. American Laughter: Immigrants, Ethnicity, and the 1930’s Hollywood Film Comedy. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996. Finds and discuses immigration and ethnic aesthetics in the films of Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and William Powell/Myrna Loy films.
Border Patrol, U.S.
Born in East L.A.
I Remember Mama
Melting pot theory
Television and radio