Migration in Film
From the album cover of Baba Zula, photo by Gökben Sikrak
Film has been an important medium for expressing and sharing identity in diasporic communities, and for reaching out to a wider audience. It can convey a sense of the displacement, racism and stigmatisation experienced by migrants, and the tensions within families who are globally dispersed or trying to establish themselves in new locations. Directors of different types of film – from Hollywood and Bollywood, to independent and art film – use the subject matter of migration, diasporas and identities to inform, entertain, educate, and provoke debate.
Migrant cinema: a typology
Researchers on migrant cinema have distinguished between transnational, migrant and diasporic film.
Transnational film: Many of today’s movies are the product of companies and professionals from more than one place. A film may be made in one country by a major company based in another, with cast, crews and technical services from a range of different places. Such films are generally intended to have widespread appeal and are marketed globally.
Migrant film: This term refers to the cinematic work of first generation migrants who are able to draw directly on their experiences of exile, migration, the asylum process and displacement. It is not a new genre: migrants have been involved at all levels of the film industry since it first began. Yiddish filmmakers in the early days of silent films created an ethnic cinema in which they expressed themselves in the language and culture of their dispersed communities, whereas a later generation of Jewish migrants – professional émigrés exiled from Germany in 1930s – were assimilated into the wider cultures of Hollywood and European cinema. Some renowned Hollywood directors are in fact Jewish migrants who found employment in the film industry and settled in America.
Diasporic film: Produced and directed by second and subsequent generations – the children and grandchildren of migrants rather than those who migrated themselves – these films typically deal with identity, marginalisation, conflict, and inter-generational debates about values, behaviour, loyalty and shared memories. Turkish German, North African French, and Black and Asian British filmmakers have played an important role in revitalising contemporary European cinema.
Even though migrant and diasporic films may be directed primarily at audiences in the home country and in diaspora, a growing trend towards mainstream films can be seen. Experimental, documentary and art cinema are being superseded by popular genres. Nevertheless, they attract wide audiences from a range of different backgrounds.
You can find listings of European migrant cinema here.