March 16, 2008

Movies on Moving: Immigrant Life in Contemporary Film

In today's New York Times, A.O. Scott writes an interesting piece on films about immigration, and specifically about how the challenges of new immigrants are being portrayed in contemporary cinema. Scott observes that, "until recently these themes have never been quite as ubiquitous on movie screens." He cites the current La Misma Luna, Golden Door, and The Edge of Heaven, and also recognizes last year's Babel and Fast Food Nation as taking a more focused angle on contemporary immigrant life, compared with the "warm," vintage tone of epics like The Godfather.

I think it's a fascinating new dimension in film. Truly, globalization is here to stay, and films will have to start showing how life really is, not how it was or how we want it to be. Scott's evidence of recent movies is accurate, but he's left out a few relatively recent ones that I remember connecting with on a similar level: In America (2002),
Quincea├▒era (2005), and The Namesake (2006).

My point is, the trend is not necessarily new in 2008, but it's certainly rising in the cinematic consciousness. Of course, 1983's El Norte was well ahead of its time (and is still searing and relevant), and documentaries on these themes have been made and ignored for years. Oh well, if it needs to be shown in the theater to wake people up, that's good enough for me.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the comment, Daniel. Glad to keep anyone away from Funny Games.

    Fascinating thoughts on immigration in film. I wouldn't consider myself a radical conservative in regards to immigration (ship 'em all back!) or a liberal either (open up the borders, free healthcare for everyone!), but somewhere in between. Now that I have a young daughter (17 months) who is watching television, I've begun to take more notice of kid's programs. One in particular that has always stood out to me is Dora the Explorer, although it is not the only one to incorporate Spanish language and Hispanic characters into the mix. Initially I thought that the programs were a bit manipulative - I'm all for racial diversity, but I don't know if I want Spanish rammed down my child's throat. After a while, though, I realized those programs existed because there was a large enough demographic to make them popular - i.e., the makeup of the country is already changing, and Dora the Explorer is just reflecting that change.

    Scott's reflections on films doing the same thing are quite astute. Rather than whine about what was or try to implement some absurd plan for the future, we should figure out how to make the current situation work for all parties involved.

    Just my 2 cents.

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  2. I'm glad you mentioned El Norte Daniel. I saw that one in high school and still have powerful memories of it.

    I lived a fairly caucasian existence until I moved from Seattle to Los Angeles. I'm not exactly a minority here, but if you add up all the people who don't have my skin color, I'm outnumbered.

    It was a little unsettling at first. I wasn't used to being different and in the past I'd have had to leave the country to hear a foreign language regularly.

    Now I embrace it. I love the variety.

    Whatever a person's stand on immigration, I believe it's inevitable. Populations are changing and moving around and whether we like it or not, we're becoming more global. Those who can accept the change will thrive and those who can't are going to find it harder and harder to cling to their sense of identity.

    Oh look, I'm rambling again.

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  3. Great thoughts, Evan. I don't think I have a strong stand on the debate either - at least not to the extremes that you mention. However, I would definitely lean toward an acceptance that immigration is going to continue to increase in big numbers (and it looks like Craig agrees), so let's figure out how to make it work effectively.

    I don't have kids, but I expect that you'll probably have many more similar realizations as your daughter grows up in the next generation. And if's affecting you at your age, imagine how it's influencing her? I think it's great to have accurate representations of the culture, but we'll see how we accept it as a society.

    Craig, I think it's great that you've "adapted," if I can use that word. I lived in southeast San Diego for a few years and it greatly added to my perspective about American culture - and it is American as much as people will continue to deny it. I learned Spanish pretty quickly (it was pretty much required in my work as a teacher) and learned a lot about Mexican culture. I don't think I had any "great awakening" (both of my parents are immigrants), but I'm very glad I had the experience to add to my cultural repertoire. For those who don't, maybe these movies will help in some way.

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