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), Quinceañera (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.