Immigrant life has always been characterized by hardship, hope and tons of culture. Some of the best films on immigrants chronicle these aspects of various groups’ lives so closely, so accurately and so deeply while also encompassing much more. They open a window into the life of the immigrant as a person, no longer branded by the term “immigrant” but instead “human.” Check out some of these amazing movies that cover many different types of immigrants and the situations they are thrust into in their new respective countries!
One of my personal favorites, “Brooklyn,” follows a young Irish girl (Saoirse Ronan) who moves to the United States in the 1950s in hopes of a life more fruitful and exciting than back home. Though homesick at first, she is quickly entranced by the glamour of her new Italian-American love. Her endeavors are put on hold, however, when her ailing family waltzes back into her life and she must chose between her homeland and her new home.
“Coming to America” (1988)
In this hilarious film, Eddie Murphy plays a wealthy African prince who comes to America searching for someone to be his princess. He goes undercover as a foreign student who’s a fast-food worker, mirroring the average life of a real immigrant under the same conditions. Murphy eventually finds who he believes to be his true love, but he struggles with his true identity and his potential future father-in-law.
“Dirty Pretty Things” (2002)
London has always been a hot spot for immigrants, but when do we ever hear of the things they do in the dark? In “Dirty Pretty Things,” an undocumented Nigerian immigrant works at a hotel’s front desk after being wrongly accused of murdering his wife and fleeing the country. He lives with a young Turkish woman with whom he forms a close bond with. Just one night changes his life forever when he’s introduced to the desperation immigrants submit to for a better life. He soon finds out that the young woman he has come to know so well is one of the unfortunate ones who has been sucked into this dark world.
“Gangs of New York” (2002)
“Gangs of New York” is a sprawling film on Irish immigrants — but instead of love, it’s about the violence and hatred they faced in 1860s New York. In the movie, a young Irish man is released from prison and hunts down an anti-immigrant boss who killed his father. Did I mention the movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio?
“The Godfather: Part II” (1974)
Everyone knows about the valor of Vito Corleone in “The Godfather,” but the second movie in the franchise really drills into how he became, well, the Godfather. Corleone arrives as a fresh Sicilian immigrant to New York in the early 1900s and is dragged into a life of crime. The movie also follows Vito’s son, Michael, as he tries to expand the “family business” in the late 1950s.
“Moonlighting” draws on Polish immigrants’ experience in London during the Cold War. A Polish work crew of four, one of whom speaks English, barely scrapes by as they work in London renovating a house. When their food and money begins to run out, their leader resorts to minor crimes to keep them going. Back in Poland, tensions rise as the Solidarity movement is destroyed, which the leader keeps hidden from the rest in order to finish the job. As time goes on, their uncertainty increases and chances of getting home safely decreases.
“Which Way Home” (2009)
This harrowing documentary follows children from Honduras and Mexico as they cross through Mexico and into the United States in search of a new home. It closely chronicles the dangers the children must brave, just as any other undocumented immigrant jumping the border would have to go through as well. Heartbreaking and horrifying, it has it all (and we’re not going to give any of it away!).
Movies about immigrants will always leave us with something we can take to heart and use in our daily lives. They’ll always show us a part of ourselves, someone we may know or the world we live in today, no matter how old the film or whether we’re an immigrant or not. Hopefully these movies will help open your mind and your heart.