Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Robert Singer

Subject Categories

Film and Media Studies


The lives of people who move from one culture to another are similar in the range of experiences they encounter and different in how they interact with their particular circumstances. Cinematic representations of diaspora, accurately enough, also show general similarities and specific differences. In light of the concept of "accented cinema," we can compare and contrast film descriptions of Chinese immigrants in New York City. We view day to day events as they are interpreted by the host culture and we also understand that immigrants define their own experiences in terms of their home culture.

Two directors who are veterans of the immigrant experience, Clara Law and Ang Lee, are compared through their films about diaspora. In general, their movies depict the types of suffering that immigrants undergo; living in a foreign country is a process of continual rejection as the outsider accommodates her inner self to her surroundings. How the director chooses to understand the characters' dilemma is the key to how the audience will come to view both the characters and the world around them.

If the director's view is harsh, she will give her characters no end of trouble, push them into impossible corners and trip them up at any sign of success. The world will judge them without mercy and the audience will end up feeling desperate. This is not a condemnation of inaccuracy; there are plenty of real diasporic lives that end in tragedy.

If, on the other hand, the director softens her approach, her characters show a flash of insight or a speck of gentleness. They learn from the circumstances in their hostland and adapt their own ideas and morays to survive. People fleeing an old life may ultimately realize a good part of themselves in a new life.

Diaspora is a common experience. Cultures collide both within and between individuals. Realistic portrayals of the immigrant experience suggest that we can empathize with these stories and learn to appreciate the complexity of human interactions.