Defining the Migration Movie Genre

The migration movie genre comprises a wide range of films that delve into the human experience of migration. These movies typically portray the obstacles and achievements of individuals and families as they relocate, seeking an improved life or a fresh start.

Migration movies can occur in different time periods and places, with various viewpoints. Some movies follow a person’s journey, while others delve into the societal and political factors behind migration. Still, others explore the emotional and cultural consequences migration has on individuals and communities.

Migration has long been a captivating subject in movies. It’s a story that connects with people globally, regardless of their own backgrounds. Movies about migration give us a distinctive perspective in examining universal human themes like identity, home, belonging, and the aspiration for a better future.

Migration movies can also be powerful tools for social change. They can raise awareness of the challenges faced by migrants, and they can help to promote empathy and understanding between different cultures.


Historical Perspective

Evolution of Migration Themes in Film 

Migration has been a recurring theme in cinema since the early days of the medium. Some of the earliest films to explore migration include:

  • The Immigrant is a 1917 silent film. Charlie Chaplin directed it. It’s about a young woman. She comes from Europe to the U.S. to find a better life.
  • Nanook of the North is from 1922. Robert J. Flaherty directed this documentary. It showcases an Inuit family’s life. They move from one hunting zone to another.
  • The Grapes of Wrath came out in 1940. It was directed by John Ford. The film is about a family’s forced move. They had to go from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl.

Films have evolved over time, capturing the shifts in society and politics. In the past few de-cades, a noticeable trend has emerged – a move towards portraying migration in a more realistic and nuanced way. These films delve into the multifaceted struggles confronting migrants, including issues of discrimination, racism, and xenophobia.

Pioneering Movies that Paved the Way

There are a number of groundbreaking migration movies that have paved the way for the genre we know today. Some of these films include:

  • Black Orpheus (1959) is a Brazilian movie by Marcel Camus. It’s about a love story ended by death. It’s a new spin on the Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice and discusses themes like love, loss, and migration.
  • America America (1963) is an epic movie by Elia Kazan. It narrates the journey of a young Greek man immigrating to the U.S in search of the American Dream. It genuinely exhibits the experiences of an immigrant.
  • Balseros (2003) is a documentary by Carles Bosch and Josep Maria Domenech. It trails three Cubans trying to cross the Florida Straits on a DIY raft. The movie is a shocking exposition of the risks migrants deal with.

These are a handful of examples of the ground-breaking migration films over the years. These movies have molded the genre and boosted knowledge of migrants’ struggles and victories.

Cultural Migrations on Screen

Exploration of Cultural Diasporas

Cultural migrations refer to the movement of people and cultures from one place to another.This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as economic opportunity, political persecution, or simply a desire for a better life.

These movies frequently delve into the idea of cultural diasporas. These films showcase how individuals and communities navigate the challenges of settling into foreign cultures while also preserving their own cultural identities.

The film Bend It Like Beckham (2002) is a great example of a movie that delves into cultural migration. It revolves around a young Indian woman who has a passion for soccer and dreams of becoming a professional player. Throughout the film, we witness her struggle to navigate the conflict between her cultural background and her ambitions. It’s a comedic and dramatic British film that beautifully portrays the challenges she encounters.

Take for instance, The Farewell (2019). It’s a US comedic-drama movie. It narrates the tale of a Chinese-American clan. They unite to bid their dying matriarch farewell, all while keeping her state of health hidden. The movie touches upon topics like family, traditions, and grief.

B. Celebrating Diversity in Migration Cinema

Migration movies frequently explore the remarkable diversity of human experiences. They portray the vibrant cultures and traditions of individuals who have migrated from various parts of the world.

City of God (2002) is a film that celebrates diversity in migration cinema. It tells the story of two young men in the Cidade de Deus favela in Rio de Janeiro. The film explores the challenges they face in the favela but also celebrates the community’s resilience and spirit.

In Moonlight (2016), a young black man’s journey in Miami is portrayed in this American coming-of-age drama film. It delves into the complex topics of identity, sexuality, and belonging.

The Human Element

Protagonists and Antagonists in Migration Movies

This film usually have detailed and multi-layered main characters. These characters often deal with hard decisions and obstacles, but they stay strong and resolved.

A good illustration of a multi-layered main character in a migration film is Babel (2006) by Alejandro González Iñárritu. This movie includes four linked tales based in various global locations. The movie showcases a broad range of characters, including a young Mexican girl who is unintentionally hit by a stray American firearm bullet.

Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” (2020) is an example of a film that tells the story of a woman. She becomes a van dweller after losing her job and her home. The film explores themes like loss, grief, and resilie-nce.

Antagonists in migration movies can be individuals, institutions, or even social and political forces. Some common antagonists include:

  • Discriminatory government policies: These policies can make it difficult for migrants to enter a country or to obtain citizenship.
  • Exploitative employers: These employers may pay migrants low wages or subject them to poor working conditions.
  • Xenophobic groups: These groups may target migrants with violence or harassment.

Emotions Unveiled: Love, Loss, and Hope

Migration movies often evoke a wide range of emotions in viewers. These films can be funny, sad, heartwarming, and even infuriating.

Love becomes a prominent theme in movies about migration. When migrants leave their home countries, they often have to say goodbye to loved ones. However, they might find new connections with fellow migrants in their new surroundings. Love serves as a vital source of strength and support, helping migrants navigate the obstacles they encounter during their journey.

Loss is a prevalent emotion examined in movies about migration. When migrants embark on their journey, they frequently leave behind their homes, possessions, and sometimes even their loved ones. Dealing with loss can be challenging for migrants, yet it can also serve as a driving force for them to overcome obstacles and create a brighter future for themselves and their families.

In migration movies, the theme of hope is frequently explored. Migrants move to new countries in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Hope serves as a strong driving force for migrants, enabling them to overcome the difficulties they encounter during their journey.

Cinematic Techniques

Visualizing Migration: Cinematography Insights

Cinematography involves capturing images on film or video. It is an art form where cinematographers utilize various techniques like camera movement, lighting, and composition to achieve the desired visual effect.

In these movies, cinematography can visually portray the intricate nature of migration in multiple ways. For instance, cinematographers have the ability to utilize various techniques such as:

  • Wide shots to convey the vastness and unforgiving landscapes that migrants often travel through.
  • Close-ups to capture the emotions and experiences of migrants on a personal level.
  • Tracking shots to follow migrants on their journey, symbolizing their determination and perseverance.
  • Handheld camerawork to create a sense of immediacy and realism.
  • Low-key lighting to create a sense of atmosphere and suspense.
  • High-key lighting to create a sense of optimism and hope.

Cinematographers may also use specific camera angles and movements to create a sense of disorientation and alienation, reflecting the experiences of migrants who are often displaced from their homes and cultures.

Impact on Society

Shaping Public Perception Through Cinema

That movie can have a significant impact on public perception of migration. These films can help to:

  • Highlight migrants’ struggles: Movies about migration can challenge and change the false impressions people may have about migrants. They have the power to reveal the harsh realities faced by migrants, like the misuse and mistreatment of migrant workers.
  • Foster cultural awareness and empathy: Migration films can give viewers a chance to experie-nce life as a migrant. They can encourage the development of empathy and respect for diverse cultures.
  • Reject harmful stereotypes: Movies dealing with migration can put a stop to harmful gene-ralizations about migrants. They defy the notion that migrants deplete resources or pose a threat to the safety of a nation.


What are migration movies? 

Migration movies are films that explore the human experience of migration. These films can depict the challenges and triumphs of individuals and families as they move from one place to another, in search of a better life or simply a new beginning.

What are some of the common themes in migration movies?

Some of the common themes in migration movies include:

  • Identity and belonging
  • Home and displacement
  • Loss and grief
  • Hope and resilience
  • Cultural diversity and exchange
  • The pursuit of a better life

What are some of the benefits of watching migration movies?

Watching migration movies can have a number of benefits, including:

  • Raising awareness of the challenges faced by migrants
  • Promoting empathy and understanding between different cultures
  • Challenging negative stereotypes about migrants
  • Inspiring people to take action to support migrants

Can you recommend some migration movies?

Here are a few migration movies that I recommend:

  • Babel (2006)
  • Nomadland (2020)
  • The Farewell (2019)
  • City of God (2002)
  • Moonlight (2016)
  • Days of Heaven (1978)
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
  • Diva (1981)
  • In the Mood for Love (2000)
  • Les Misérables (2019)
  • Minari (2020)
  • I, Daniel Blake (2016)
  • La Noire de… (2016)

There are loads of brilliant films about migration out there. This is just a tiny look at them. I want you to go and look for yourself. Find new films. They’ll make you think differently and learn more about the people and places around you.


Migration is a complex and diverse phenomenon. Movies about migration give us a special and strong way to explore how people experience migration. By sharing the stories of migrants, these films can help us understand the difficulties they encounter and the strength they show.