15 Films on Migration you should see

By Shameelah Khan
(a Facebook friend compilation)

I recently asked my Facebook community of friends to recommend some films that are a must-see on the theme of Migration, and I received over 40 comments with endless film, series and documentary suggestions. I am always taken aback by how generous people on my Facebook are. Some of them are incredibly close to me while others, I have never met but I am so often comforted by their council, their thoughts on the daily, and the online community we have built continuously together over the years. I usually find that my film recommendation lists happen as a solitary process. So, for this issue on migration, I will be recommending the top ten choices that my Facebook friends have suggested. No matter where we find ourselves, in the countries we find ourselves, the movements of homes, people and places, we have cinema, and it connects us in unimaginable ways. I wanted to thank all of the people from my little Facebook post the other day who so generously took the time to make this article a success and introduce me to some new films.

  • Capernaum (2018) Directed by Nadine Labaki

This film tells the story of Zain, a 12-year-old boy living in the ‘slums’ of Beirut where he encounters an Ethiopian immigrant, Rahil, and her son, Yonas. The chain of events is mostly told through flashbacks and Zain places us into the present where he is suing his parents for child neglect. This film is a painful watch. I don’t often pour my heart out during a film, but this one will have you weeping. Nadine Labaki is an extraordinary visual storyteller, and this film may possibly be her best.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • Adú (2020) Directed by Salvador Calvo

Adú is a three-character driven narrative set in a quaint Spanish town in Northern Africa. It tells the poetic and painful journey of a child, a father, and a coast guard. This film is yet another tear-jerker. I have to admit that I am never a fan of multiple narratives in films, but this film has somewhat done these interwoven character arcs justice. More than this, it sheds light on a unique African-centred narrative.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • A Prophet (2009) and Dheepan (2015) by Jacques Audiard

I cheated a bit and gave you two films by Jacques but equally deserving to be on this list. I will begin with A Prophet (Un Prophète) a classic and very well-known film where a young Arab man is sent to a French prison and must learn how to survive in a very fearful and foreign environment. I remember watching this film glued to my seat, lost in suspense where some scenes will never leave you. Tahar Rahim is a powerful protagonist, and the audience grows with him from beginning to end.

Similarly, Dheepan explores a riveting story about a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who flees to France with a woman and a child, where he works as a caretaker. This story has a chaotic balance of survival and the urge to love. It tells the story of how strangers must navigate a threatening neighbourhood in order to live in a place they may never call home. Once again, Audiard manages to hold our attention from beginning to end with a story told through the most compelling characters.

You can watch both trailers here:



  • Fatima’s Drawings (2015) Directed by Magnus Wennman

Fatima’s Drawings is a short film that tells the poignant story of a nine-year-old refugee’s journey from war-torn Libya to Sweden. What makes this film unique is the perspective of Fatima herself, who presents her narrative through her drawings. While it tackles difficult subject matter, it never strays from its child-like sense of innocence. Instead, the film bravely depicts its themes of immigration with naive adolescence, but the impact and profound message at its core is still made loud and clear. Filmmaker Magnus Wennman’s powerful, poetic and tragic short story is an eye-opening and often harrowing look at immigration and its tribulations from the understanding of a child, and definitely leaves its imprint lingering in your mind far longer than its short running time.

You can watch the film here:

  • Farewell Amor (2020) Directed by Ekwa Msangi

I first saw this film during the Durban Film Festival this year and I was really impressed by the way in which the narrative itself unfolds. Told from the point of view of three family members, Farewell Amor follows the journey of an Angolan immigrant living in the U.S who is joined by his wife and daughter after 17 years of being separated. The three live in a one-bedroom apartment trying to make sense of their differing and changing identities. They could never be physically closer yet emotionally apart.

  • His House (2020) Directed by Remi Weekes

I am not a horror fan, but for those of you who do revel in this genre, here is one for you. An interesting take on the theme of migration, His House tells the story of a family of refugees who have fled from war-stricken Sudan. They gain asylum in England where they are forced to live in an apartment and never leave it. It is here that they encounter a rather gruelling evil torment that lurks beneath or in their home, determined to get them out.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • Life is Beautiful (1997) Directed by Roberto Benigni

Also a classic, this film follows a Jewish librarian and his son who become victims of the Holocaust. In order to protect his son from the evils of the camp, he uses humour and imagination to protect his son from the pain that lies ahead.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • A Season in France (2017) Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

This film highlights such an imperative storyline when it comes to migration and school life. An African high school teacher flees his country for France, where he falls in love with a French woman who eventually allows him and his family to live with her.  This film is about the “everyday” as it moves between fatherhood, family and forgiveness.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • District 9 (2009) Directed by Neill Blomkamp

I recently attended a Director’s course, and the mentor screened a bit of this film. He remarked that “there is no film like this” and I have to agree. District 9 is a “South African” feat. Sharlto Copley delivers an exhilarating performance weaving together a story that makes a genuinely compelling comment on Xenophobia. This film comments on otherness, a search for inner meaning, and true self-actualisation.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • Asal Eswed/ Bittersweet/Molasses/Black Honey (2010) Directed by Khalid Marie

An Egyptian man goes back to Egypt after having lived in America for almost 20 years. He enters and cannot get out when he loses his money and struggles to reconnect with his identity. A kind of “Ramy”esque Season 1 Finale” vibes film which will leave you with many moments of laughter and possible cringe-elements? It depends on your position, really. I can understand though why many films on Migration could feel this way, depending on where you find yourself and from which country too.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • The Namesake (2006) Directed by Mira Niar

A Mira Niar favourite, The Namesake follows American born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants. Gogol has a complex relationship to his history, name, New York, and Indian heritage and tradition that his family won’t let go of. This is definitely a film about reconnecting to ones ‘roots’ and in the process finding new ways of rekindling old customs and hidden loves.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • The Joyluck Club (1993) Directed by Wayne Wang

A tradition kept alive by a group of mothers born in feudal-China, through a series of flashbacks, their American born Chinese daughters tell a tale of complex mother-daughter relationships. An excellent adaptation of nostalgic memoirs from a group of women and their honest and heartfelt emotional journeys.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • Touki Bouki (1973) Djibril Diop Mambéty

With a stunning mix of the surreal and the naturalistic, Djibril Diop Mambéty paints a fractured portrait of the disenchantment of postindependence Senegal in the early 1970s. In this picaresque fantasy-drama, the disaffected young lovers, Anta and Mory, are fed up with Dakar and long to escape to the glamour and comforts they imagine France has to offer. However, their plan is confounded by obstacles, both practical and mystical. Alternately manic and meditative, Touki Bouki has an avant-garde sensibility characterised by vivid imagery, bleak humour, unconventional editing, and jagged soundscapes, and it demonstrates Mambéty’s commitment to telling African stories in new ways.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • Persepolis (2007) Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

This is an animated biographical drama film that follows a young girl’s journey as she navigates her way within the Iranian Revolution. The film poignantly begins with an Iranian woman at the airport ready to leave for France. Before her flight takes off, she reminisces about her childhood in Tehran.

You can watch the trailer here:

  • Lion (2016) Directed by Garth Davis

A young Indian child is abandoned after getting lost at a train station, unable to find his way back home, he is left at an orphanage in India. An Australian family then adopts him. After 25 years, he returns to India and sets out to find his biological family. Dev Patel delivers a moving portrayal of a man’s search for identity and meaning in a world that never quite felt like home. I have to say, so does Nicole Kidman.

You can watch the trailer here:

Here are the films from the facebook post that I could not include:

  • Africa Paradiso
  • Tamas
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • Madagascar
  • Children of Men
  • Snow Falling on Cedars
  • La Pirogue
  • Atlantique
  • Les Sauteurs
  • Europa
  • 14 Kilometers
  • Amistad
  • Human Flow
  • Get Outta Here
  • My Name is Khan
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
  • I Live Here
  • I Learn America
  • Vids Diferida
  • Brooklyn
  • An American Tail
  • The Godfather
  • The Immigrant
  • Cloud over Sidera
  • Rio
  • Rocco and his Brothers
  • Bread and Roses
  • Red Dog
  • The Heine
  • Ice Age
  • The African Doctor
  • The 100 Foot journey
  • Amreeka
  • Bend it like Beckham
  • Salt of the Sea
  • Paddington
  • Manto
  • East is East
  • Toba Tek Singh
  • Jim Goes to Joburg
  • The Piano
  • Le Havre
  • Gegen die Wand (Head On)
  • The Pawnbroker
  • Dancer in the Dark
  • Black Girl
  • Morgen

Contributors to film suggestions:

Lamar Bonhomme
Elif Fatima Gorken
Magan Pillay
Vusi Africa Sindane
KO Masombuka
Aneesa Moosa
Sam Aberdeen
Shayan Aslam
Meraj Chhaya
Salma Gani
Ighsaan Token Omar
Salym Fayad
Matthew Frankilin
Fakhri Owaisi
Asiya Hendricks
Ibtisaam Ahmed
Raphael d’Abdon
Hankyeol Lee
Abdulla Moaswes
Dayakar Padayachee
Sonwabile Mbulbulu
Mick Raubenheimer
Ralph Reezy Hlalele
Tammy Ann Langtry
Joe Turpin
Sajid Hussain
Zain Ul Abedeen Mohamed
Irf Yusuf
Tzvi Karp Singh