Author, poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Often popular art forms such as movies and books reflect our experiences in life. In fact, sometimes it is comforting to view stories on others’ experiences to know we are not alone in our feelings or perceptions. In movies we may find ourselves sympathizing or identifying with relatable characters or plotlines. It’s not unusual then for us to watch films not only for entertainment, but to validate our perceptions.
Adjusting and assimilating to a new culture has its challenges in emotional setbacks, frustrations, and anxiety. As a result, these challenges are the subject in numerous movies. Below is a short list of feature length films that deal with the adventures and experiences of individuals when crossing cultures:
1. Outsourced (2006) – In this romantic comedy, Todd Anderson is a novelty product salesman from America who finds his job outsourced to a call center in India. As a result, he is required to travel to India to train his replacements. He and his new call center employees grow frustrated in trying to understand each other’s cultures. His reluctance to the host culture and perception soon change as Asha, his friend and coworker, shows him there is more to India than what he first thought.
2. Moscow on the Hudson (1984) In this American comedy-drama, Vladimir Ivanoff is a Soviet Russian circus musician who defects to the U.S. during the Cold War while the Moscow Circus is on a visit to New York. The story is told in flashback through the memories of Ivanoff’s first impressions of the U.S. and the ensuing culture shock as he tries to assimilate in the strange new city. His is a slow and painful transition as he eventually finds his way.
3. The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) In his quest to get rid of a troublesome Coke bottle the careless gods dropped in his remote village in the Kalahari Desert, African bushman Xi encounters strange newcomers Andrew Steyn, a biologist and Kate Thompson, a school teacher as they all tangle with despot revolutionaries in this South African comedy.
4. Crocodile Dundee (1986) In this Australian comedy, American reporter Sue Carlton must track down a crocodile hunter Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee in the Australian Outback for a story. She finds life in the wild backcountry with Dundee to be mysterious, exciting and dangerous. Carlton then invites Dundee back to experience life in New York where he applies his wilderness techniques in negotiating the big city.
5. The Ramen Girl (2008) An American-Korean comedy-drama about an American girl who finds herself stranded in Japan following a break up with her boyfriend. While adjusting to her new home, Abby mends her broken heart and self-esteem when she learns to cook traditional Ramen under a strict and demanding master chef. She ultimately realizes the discipline it takes to make Ramen has also helped her to find direction in life and true friendship.
6. Under the Same Moon (2007) Also known as La Misma Luna, this Mexican-American drama, features the trials and tribulations of nine-year-old Carlitos as he travels from Mexico in search of his mother, Rosario, who illegally immigrated to the U.S. to find work. Mother and son have not seen each other in five years, but had remained in touch over the phone while Rosario sent what money she earned to Carlitos’ unscrupulous uncle who is caring for him. Carlitos must endure the harrowing experience of being smuggled into the U.S. by coyotes and then the subsequent twists and turns it takes to be reunited with his mother.
7. Black Girl (1966) In this Sub-Saharan African drama, Diouana, a young Senegalese woman, moves from Senegal to France to work for a wealthy French couple. Diounna had hoped to resume her former role as a nanny in her new home, but instead is forced to work as a house servant under her harsh employers. She soon comes to question her new life in France where she has only encountered constraints and alienation, as she is stripped of her cultural identity. Its original French title, La Noire de… means “the black girl of…” as in belonging to someone.
8. Coming to America (1988) is an American comedy about the adventures of a young rebellious African crown prince, Akeem Joffer, from the fictional nation of Zamunda. Joffer travels to the U.S. to seek independence from his pampered life and find a bride that hasn’t been chosen by his domineering and traditional parents. Passing himself off as a poor foreign student, he takes a job as a fast food worker in order to present himself as an ordinary person so he could attract an intelligent and sensible girl who would not be caught up in his wealth and social status.
For more films and documentaries on the subject of cultural education, the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquistion (CARLA) of the University of Minnesota has compiled a suggested comprehensive list.
What movies do you like that deal with culture shock and assimilation?
Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype