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8 Must Watch Movies About the Immigrant Experience

Movies can give us a great insight into what it might be like to leave your home and to move to a new country. So, in this article, we’ll share eight must-watch movies about the immigrant experience.

Photo by Metin Ozer from Unsplash

In recent years, applications for British citizenship have continued to grow, despite uncertainty caused by Brexit and the global COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, there were 179,968 applications for British Citizenship, an increase of 5% from 2020 and, it’s expected that numbers will be higher still in 2022.

While immigration is rarely far from the headlines in the UK, few of us stop to think about what life must be like for somebody to leave everything they know behind in order to start a new life in a different country.

In this article, we’re going to share eight must-watch movies that provide valuable insight into the life of an immigrant.

1.  The Joy Luck Club

This 1993 classic starring Ming-Na Wen and Lauren Tom, The Joy Luck Club is the heartwarming – and heartbreaking – tale of four Chinese women who have made their home in San Francisco and raised their daughters there. Brought together through a mahjong club, the women navigate life in a different country with a different language and culture.

2.  Angela’s Ashes

This smash hit film is based on the best-selling book by Frank McCourt follows his family’s journey from the slums of Ireland to Manhattan and back again. Despite featuring poverty, child deaths and illness, the comic thread of McCourt’s prose nevertheless leaves the viewer filled with hope.

3.  Persepolis

A black and white animated movie, Persepolis is a coming-of-age story which follows teenager Marjane from a life in war-torn Iran to Vienna where she feels safe but also feels like an outsider. Touching and beautifully shot, this film tackles immigration from the perspective of a young girl who often feels out of her depth but is determined to continue her studies and make something of herself.

4.  A Better Life

Tense and heartrending, A Better Life highlights the desperation which leads many people to relocate to a new country illegally. When a Mexican immigrant gardener, played by Demian Bichir, moves to Los Angeles to give his son a better life, things take a desperate turn for the worse. The pair lose their truck and begin an urgent search to find it in order to avoid the attention of authorities and possibly face deportation.

5.  Brooklyn

Most films about immigration centre around a person moving to a new country and endeavouring to stay there, despite various challenges being thrown at them, however, Brooklyn turns this on its head. Set in 1950s America, Brooklyn tells the tale of an Irish woman who, after relocating to Brooklyn, begins to question her choice and, indeed, considers heading back to Ireland.

6.  East Is East

Photo by Jayesh Jalodara from Unsplash

1999 film, East Is East, takes a comedic look at the struggles faced by a Pakistani immigrant living in Salford with his English wife and their children. As George Khan attempts to marry off his children, he struggles to marry his traditional Pakistani values with his English lifestyle. The film would go on to launch the career of successful actor, Jimi Mistry who would go on to star in a number of films and soap operas.

7.  In America

This uplifting 2002 movie steers away from the doom and gloom and, instead, concentrates on an Irish family’s transition from poverty-stricken Ireland to the bright lights of New York City. Written and directed by Jim Sheridan and his daughters, Naomi and Kirsten, this movie focuses on the family’s achievements and successes and is a genuinely heartwarming tale. Many people love this movie simply for the fact that it shows the viewers that, even if you go through hardships as an immigrant, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

8.  Paddington

Photo by Rod Long from Unsplash

Last, but not least, we turn to perhaps the UK’s most famous immigrant – Paddington Bear. Based on the books by children’s author, Michael Bond. When Paddington Bear arrives in the UK from Peru, he finds himself lost and confused with nothing more to his name than a suitcase containing a marmalade sandwich. Thankfully, the bear is soon rescued by the Brown family. More recently, Paddington visited an altogether more glamorous residence when he had tea with Queen Elizabeth during her 70th Jubilee celebrations.


Films Featuring the Immigration Experience

In February 2022, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia saw thousands of Ukrainian people being forced to flee to safety to a number of different countries, including the United Kingdom. Few of us can imagine having to pack up our belongings head off into the unknown.

While many immigrants don’t face the kind of experience that those from Ukraine are going through at the moment, moving to a new country presents a number of challenges including learning a different language, trying to make friends and getting to grips with a different culture. The films listed in this article highlight the fact that becoming an immigrant can be an extremely lonely and scary experience however, there can also be light at the end of the tunnel.


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