Film series: Migration Stories: Past & Present

Student working on film projector

image from the film SON OF MONARCHS

image from the film SON OF MONARCHS

Cornell Cinema partners with Cornell’s Migrations Initiative to screen six films that portray experiences of border crossing in multiple world regions and across historical periods. These stories represent migration through multiple lenses, including experiences of forced displacement, enslavement and dispossession, racism and xenophobia, imagined destinations, resistance, understandings of home and community, and transnational belonging. Borders in these films appear not only as physical sites of crossing, but as social and cultural barriers that people confront in their daily lives, and as sites of connection across language and memory.

In drawing together stories of past and present, the series offers a chance to discuss a range of questions related to the representation of migration experiences: What role can comedy play in representing refugees? What questions of representation should inform casting decisions? How is human migration linked to the environment? How do characters anticipate departure or reckon with the challenges of arrival in a new place? What new or altered understandings of history do we bring to films produced several decades ago? What perspectives or questions do these films offer for our present moment?

In Eyimofe (This is My Desire), friends in Lagos imagine reaching Europe. Limbo instead tells the story of refugees who have reached Scotland, where they struggle to establish new lives. The recent blockbuster In the Heights and the restored classic Hester Street portray diasporic and transnational communities in New York City, more than a century apart. Set during the same period as Hester Street, the award-winning, highly acclaimed Daughters of the Dust tells a multi-generational story of Gullah women who leave the South Carolina Sea Islands and move to the mainland. Memory plays a key role in these films: memories of enslavement, of persecution, of community.

Son of Monarchs also engages the place of memory in our understandings of place and belonging. The film draws on the migration of monarch butterflies to tell the story of a Mexican biologist whose own movements echo the monarchs’ paths. Director Alexis Gambis will be in attendance to present the film, and will be joined by others, including Cornell Professor Robert Reed (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology), the inspiration for the film’s main character, for a post-screening discussion.

Special thanks to Eleanor Paynter, a postdoc with Cornell’s Migrations Initiative, for her assistance with this series, including writing this article. 

Cosponsored with Cornell’s Migrations Initiative.

Related films

image from the film Limbo



image from the film Son of Monarchs

Son of Monarchs


image from the film Eyimofe (This is My Desire)

Eyimofe (This is My Desire)


image from the film In the Heights

In the Heights


image from the film Hester Street

Hester Street


image from the film Daughters of the Dust

Daughters of the Dust