Day Without Immigrants, which will place on May 1st, will be a protest against the negative impact that immigrants have on American society. For a look at how the immigrant experience has been captured on film, check out these 11 fantastic films!
1. El Norte
It’s “El Norte” that tells the story of immigrants.
THE STORY OF THE WORLD This is one of the first documentaries to examine the issue of illegal immigration from the perspective of those fleeing the country. The “north” of the term refers to Guatemalan peasants who travel to the United States.
CHALLENGE Both David Villalpando and Zaide Silvio Gutierrez star as two Guatemalan siblings who flee their oppressive military government for the harsh conditions of Mexico, where life is just as difficult for undocumented immigrants as it is here in the United States. The siblings eventually make it to California, where they can only find low-paying jobs on the black market. It appears that they have only exchanged one form of economic tyranny for a different form of it.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT At each stage of their journey, the immigrants face a harrowing battle akin to that in The Grapes of Wrath, and Gregory Nava’s direction is lush and epic for the price.
2. Maria Full of Grace
“Maria Full of Grace” chronicles the life of an immigrant in the United States of America.
THE STORY OF THE WORLD Women from South America who risk their lives to escape poverty by consenting to smuggle drugs into the United States are the subject of this documentary. To prepare for her trip to JFK International Airport, pregnant Colombian teenager Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) consumes an absurd number of huge, greased, impermeable pellets.
CHALLENGE There are many risks these women willingly take, including possibly lethal rupture of pellets, arrest by suspicious customs authorities and harsh indifference of their drug contacts in America, which are depicted in this film with great frankness. Women like Maria, who opt to remain in the country illegally, face additional challenges such as a lack of access to employment and housing, but they do discover a supportive network of Colombian expats who are prepared to assist them.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT Actor Moreno, who has been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Maria, is painful and uplifting in equal measure.
“Spanglish” tells the story of an immigrant’s journey.
THE STORY OF THE WORLD Spanglish depicts the story of an illegal immigrant and single mother, Flor (Paz Vega), who works as a maid for a well-off Anglo family, the Claskys (headed by Adam Sandler and Téa Leoni), in Southern California today.
CHALLENGE Here, we’re dealing with the topic of assimilation. When Cristina (Shelbie Bruce), Flor’s clever daughter, is forced to take the role of the adult and function as her mother’s interpreter, they both feel uneasy and embarrassed. Flor is concerned that her daughter may become too like the Claskys, who are vain, shallow, materialistic, and snobby, as a result of assimilation.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT Sandler’s portrayal of a mature and responsible adult is a unique twist for the Clasky clan. As well as the awkward yet endearing attempts of his character to bridge the gap between himself and Flor.
4. The Border
The film “The Border” chronicles the life of an immigrant.
THE STORY OF THE WORLD From the perspective of U.S.-Mexico border patrol officials like Charlie, here’s what illegal immigration looks like (Jack Nicholson).
CHALLENGE Cat (Harvey Keitel), one of Charlie’s other guards, leads a black market smuggling business that is a virtual slave trade in illegal labor and infants, which is facilitated by Charlie’s fellow guards.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT Tony Richardson’s precise direction transforms this melodrama into an efficient thriller, starring Michael Nicholson in what may be his most subtle performance.
5. My Family (Mi Familia)
Immigrants’ experiences are depicted in “My Family (Mi Familia).”
THE STORY OF THE WORLD The story of one family’s migration to Los Angeles in the 1920s, and the subsequent professional successes of the patriarch José Sanchez’s grandsons, spans the Mexican-American experience of the twentieth century.
CHALLENGE The Sanchez family is subjected to mass deportations in the 1930s, gang violence in the 1950s, and political oppression in Latin America in the 1980s in this saga by Gregory Nava (less dramatic than his El Norte), which he wrote and directed (where Toni Sanchez, played by Constance Marie, is a nun and political activist).
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT Cast members J. Lo, Jimmy Smits and Edward James Olmos are all well-known names in the entertainment industry.
6. The Perez Family
An immigrant family’s story is told in “The Perez Family.”
THE STORY OF THE WORLD The Cuban immigrant experience in the Castro era is examined in this dramedy. The release of Juan Raul Perez (Alfred Molina) after 20 years in prison prompts him to travel to Florida in pursuit of his wife (Anjelica Huston) and daughter, who are now grown adults (Trini Alvarado). His unrelated but posing as his wife prostitute Dottie Perez (Marisa Tomei) joins him on the border crossing.
CHALLENGE One problem is adjusting to American culture, even in the well-established Cuban community in Florida. The lack of Cuban ancestry among the film’s key stars — Molina, Tomei, Huston, Alvarado, and director Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala) — raises questions about the film’s cultural validity.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT Molina and Huston (Spider-Man 2), two cinematic mainstays.
7. Moscow on the Hudson
The film “Moscow on the Hudson” chronicles the life of a Russian immigrant in the United States.
THE STORY OF THE WORLD Robin Williams stars as Vladimir, a Russian musician who defectes to the United States (appropriately, at Bloomingdale’s, the temple of capitalism), only to discover that being free in America can sometimes mean being free to fall through the cracks. This bittersweet comedy from 1984 was released at the same time that Soviet defections made headlines.
CHALLENGE A diverse mix of immigrants struggles to find their footing in the movie’s melting pot Manhattan, where Vladimir finds himself. After falling in love with an Italian-born sales clerk named Lucia (Maria Conchita Alonso), Vladimir moves from one service industry job to the next only to discover that she prefers to date someone who is “more American,” as she puts it.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT An unusually subdued Williams delivers a standout performance, while Venezuelan-born and Cuban-raised Alonso impresses in the role that launched her career in Hollywood.
8. In America
the immigrant experience is documented in “In America.”
THE STORY OF THE WORLD The film focusses on an Irish family that travel illegally to the United States during an economically depressed period in Ireland in the 1980s. They make their home in the then-dreary Hell’s Kitchen district of New York City.
CHALLENGE With a father (Paddy Considine) struggling to find job and a mother (Oscar-nominated Samantha Morton) dealing with an expensive and difficult pregnancy, filmmaker Jim Sheridan and his daughters weave a semi-autobiographical drama.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT In particular, when they forge a bond with their AIDS-afflicted neighbor (Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou), the two tiny girls (real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger) are endearing.
9. Green Card
The immigrant experience is chronicled in “Green Card.”
THE STORY OF THE WORLD The film’s title refers to its focus on green-card marriages. In order to avoid deportation, French avant-garde musician Georges (Gérard Depardieu) forms a fictitious union with New York botanist Bront (Andie MacDowell). In order to deceive the INS, they fabricate a fictitious romantic history between them.
CHALLENGE Immigrants are depicted as arbitrary and burdensome impediments that keep lovers apart and prevent bright foreigners from becoming assets to the United States — but after hearing Georges play the piano, you may be rooting for deportation.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT To their credit, the pair’s forced courtship is endearing and might be viewed as symbols of the national character of the United States.
The Alamo Bay: Everett Collection has provided the image.
10. Alamo Bay
The film “Alamo Bay” depicts the life of an immigrant.
THE STORY OF THE WORLD Immigrants known as the Boat People arrive in the United States after fleeing Vietnam in the years immediately following the end of the Vietnam War. In the film, the Texas fishing hamlet of the title is less than welcoming.
CHALLENGE For the locals’ fears of losing their jobs and their lingering bitterness over the war, the Vietnamese are used as scapegoats. Ku Klux Klan involvement in the issue adds another layer of complexity to the situation because of the group’s involvement.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT As a desperate and violent fisherman, Ed Harris is as captivating as ever, and French director Louis Malle thoughtfully directs.
Kobal Collection Mississippi Masala
11. Mississippi Masala
Mississippi Masala chronicles the life of an immigrant in the United States today.
THE STORY OF THE WORLD How achromatic is today’s South? How are Indian immigrants doing in the United States now that Jim Crow is gone? It’s a story about how a group of Indians (who were exiled from Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1970s) attempts to maintain their cultural identity, even as one of their own (Sarita Choudhury) falls in love with a local African-American guy (Denzel Washington).
CHALLENGE In the first American feature directed by Indian-born director Mira Nair, the couple’s courtship is met with the predictable bigotry of both groups.
HOW YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH IT When we last saw Denzel in this romantic mode, he was at his most down-to-earth and approachable.