Ten Films About Immigrants to Watch Over the Holidays

Movies mirror culture, and since the U.S. is a nation of immigrants there are a host of films that reflect their histories and experiences. Of course a lot of films don’t do justice to the complexities of immigrant narratives or political issues they face, and so I came up with a list of films that reflect diverse immigrant experiences.

The suggested films span 1917 to 2012, and even the oldest among them reflect current and universal immigrant themes: citizenship, family expectations, the so-called American Dream and, of course, love.

Because it’s a holiday I leaned toward more upbeat films about journeys to the U.S., but I’m sure I didn’t catch them all. Feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section below, or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

“Una Noche,” (2013): Directed by Lucy Mulloy, this film tells the story of Raul (a Havana teenager) who after being accused of assaulting a tourist convinces his friends Elio and Lila to escape to Miami on a homemade raft.


“The Immigrant,” (1917): Directed and starring Charlie Chaplin as an immigrant coming to the U.S. Even without sound, Chaplin was able to express the hopes and heartbreak many immigrants face upon arriving in America. When he sees the Statue of Liberty the title card reads, “The arrival in the Land of liberty;” The next title card reads, “Later…Hungry and Broke.”


“Coming to America,” (1988): Directed by John Landis, this hilarious movie stars Eddie Murphy as an African prince who comes to Queens, N.Y. to find a wife. The film was nominated for two Oscars.


“No Look Pass,” (2011): Directed by Melissa Johnson, this documentary tells the story of a new kind of American Dream. Emily Tay is a first generation Burmese-American who gets a scholarship to Harvard. Tay struggles with her sexuality, family expectations and the U.S. military when she falls in love with a female soldier.


“In America,” (2002): Directed by Jim Sheridan, this is a semi-autobiographical film written by Sheridan (My Left Foot and In The Name of The Father) and his 2 daughters about an Irish family who enter the U.S. on a tourist visa and try to adjust to life in New York City. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards.


“The Sweet Land,” (2005): Directed by Ali Selim, this is a gentle story about an arranged marriage (in 1920) between a German bride and a Norwegian American farmer. The film is sentimental, but it wins you over.


“Under The Same Moon,” (2007): Directed by Patricia Riggen. When Carlito’s Grandmother dies he travels from Mexico to America to find his mother who is working illegally in the States.


“Greencard,” (1991): Directed by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society), Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell star in this movie about two people who marry for convenience, but end up falling in love. The film was nominated for an Academy Award.


“Inocente,” (2012): Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix. The title character in this short documentary is an undocumented fifteen year-old Latina. While the subject matter may seem grim, Inocente (both the film and the girl) are a joy to watch. The movie was named best short documentary at the 2012 Oscars.


The Girl, (2012): Directed by David Riker, this film stars Abbie Cornish as a young white woman who becomes a human trafficker to make money. Through a series of mistakes she ends up being the reluctant caretaker of a young Mexican girl.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.

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AboutMiranda Shafer
Miranda Shafer is a media studies graduate student at the New School. She has worked for WNYC as a production assistant for Selected Shorts and as a producer for the series "Talk to Me." She likes hot media and cold weather.