The Humanizing Power of Immigrant Filmmakers

When foreign filmmakers come to Hollywood, they bring a unique, potent perspective to their work.
Babel Iñárritu
By  · Published on February 14th, 2018

One of the primary goals of a film is to get the audience to identify and empathize with a stranger on screen. Whether the character is square-jawed and heroic or frustratingly human, a skilled director can make the protagonist’s choices relatable without watering down their complexities. This requires a deep understanding of the director’s part of not only the character but their surrounding environment. How, then, do the films of foreign directors generate empathy when both they and the audience are out of their natural settings?

According to Luís Azevedo in a video essay for Fandor, immigrant filmmakers subvert the Hollywood gaze with these films, creating a more global outlook in its place. In a new series, the streaming service is highlighting the work of three Mexican directors — Alejandro G. IñárrituAlfonso Cuarón, and Guillermo del Toro — and how their work “can humanize the underrepresented in the current political climate.” The first video focuses on Iñárritu’s filmography, as well as the difference between the local and tourist perspective in cinema.

A notable aspect of Iñárritu’s “Death Trilogy” (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel) is how each film showcases stories that seldom get told in mainstream films: a teen living in the slums, a heartbroken mother, a deaf Japanese girl. In presenting them to audiences, especially American audiences, Iñárritu had to find some sort of common ground. Ideally, “the goal is to translate something that is foreign into something an audience can understand without oversimplifying.” Babel exemplifies this as the film takes place across four countries with four different storylines all united through the universal theme of suffering.

Fandor’s video essay believes that “the audience should have the experience of the local and not the casual voyeuristic look of the tourist” while watching a film. Compare Iñárritu’s time spent situating himself and attempting to understand his new surroundings before making Biutiful to Woody Allen’s travel guide point of view in Vicky Christina Barcelona. At times it can be hard to recognize that they take place in the same city! The effort put in is apparent on screen, from where the camera is placed to how the characters interact with each other. By providing the audience with the local perspective, they are given more room to connect with the characters, enhancing the story being told.

Watch the thought-provoking video below and keep an eye out for their second installment!

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