Recommended North and Central American Films on Poverty
An American Tale. Dir. Don Bluth. 1986.
A young mouse named Fievel Mousekewitz (Phillip Glasser) and his family emigrate from Russia to the United States by boat after their home is destroyed by cats. During the trip, a fierce storm throws Fievel from the ship, and he loses contact with his family. Luckily, he manages to sail to New York in a bottle. There, Irish mouse Bridget (Cathianne Blore), an Italian mouse named Tony (Pat Musick) and a kindly cat named Tiger (Dom DeLuise) help Fievel search for his loved ones.
Dancer in the Dark. Dir. Lars von Trier. 2000.
Dancer in the Dark is a musical featuring a simple minded European immigrant. A poor factory worker, going blind of a hereditary disease and yet hopeful that she will be able to save her son from a similar fate, the protagonist commits a murder to get the money to save her son’ eyesight.
Dancehall Queen. Rick Elgood, Don Letts.1997.
This film focuses on a Jamaican street vendor who is dependent on various men to provide protection and financial support. After the molestation of her daughter by one of her benefactors, and the mental incapacitation of the other, she disguises herself for a dance contest in order to better her circumstances and exact revenge.
The Grapes of Wrath. Dir. John Ford.1940.
Based on Steinbeck’s novel, this film details the struggles of the Midwestern Joad family during the Great Depression and drought of the 1930s. As the family struggles to stay together and survive as their travels, they are harrowed but ultimately unbroken by the their experiences on the journey to and at the migrant worker camps they encounter in the west.
Lost Angels- Skid Row is my Home. Dir. Thomas Q. Napper. 2010.
This is an affecting documentary about the development of and containment of poverty and the mentally ill in Los Angeles’s Skid Row. Emphasizing, the community aspect, the film follows residents while tracing the larger story from the Reagan era’s mass closure of mental institutions to the devastating impact that the Safer Cities initiative had on the community.
Leolo. Dir. Jean-Claude Lauzon. 1992.
Young Leo Lauzon is torn between two worlds – the squalid Montreal tenement that he inhabits with his severely dysfunctional (and largely insane) family, and the imaginative world that he constructs for himself through his writings, where he’s Leolo Lozone, son of a Sicilian peasant (conceived in a bizarre act involving a tomato).
Rocky V. dir. John G. Avildsen.1990.
Suffering from brain damage and unable to continue boxing after his last major fight, Rocky is forced to move back to Philadelphia where he begins training a protégé who later turns on him for glory and fame.
Sand Dollars. Dirs. Guzman and Cardenas.2013.
An older European woman begins an affair with a vivacious young Dominican woman who struggle to make ends meet. Love brings a flow of entanglements in a drama which unfolds like palm trees in an irresistible storm.
Sin Nombre. Dir. Cary Fukunaga. 2009.
A Honduran teenager Sayra reunites with her father, and leaves with him to Mexico to ultimately cross into the US. During a robbery on the train ride to Mexico, she is saved by a gang member who turns on his friend when he attempts to rape her. The two develop a relationship as he joins their party to escape gang retribution.
Smoke Signals. Dir Chris Eyre. 1998.
Set on a reservation in Idaho, this film details a pivotal moment in the maturation of two young Native American teens. Early in the film Victor learns that his long absent (and abusive) father has died in New Mexico. Lacking money to travel and collect his father’s remains, Thomas ( n eccentric storyteller and his childhood friend) offers to help him if he can come along. The film details their trip and the terms to which both young men must come about their fathers and themselves.
Sunlight Jr. Dir. Laurie Collver. 2013.
Sunlight Jr. follows a relatively happy couple as they navigate their precarious position below the poverty line. Their tenuous balance is destroyed when an unexpected pregnancy, initially happily received, strains their finances and ultimately their relationship.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Dir. Tobe Hooper.1974.
Offensive for its depiction of the rural poor as homocidal maniacs to be feared and avoided, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is horror film in which a group of friends run out of gas on a trip to one of their ancestral homes. They stumble by accident upon a group of murderous cannibals (whose violent agricultural training–killing cows– has been made obsolete by industrialization) who kill them off one by one.