Immigrants in America: A Hollywood Perspective

Over the years Hollywood has produced a vivid record of the immigrant experience in America. Although many movies are controversial on matters of fact, they nonetheless provide a valuable insight into how immigrants are seen and represented in the mainstream.

The film industry is significantly positioned to examine America’s changing cultural identity and bring to the public’s attention the stories of immigrant communities. Ever since the 1920s studios have presented audiences with dramatized accounts of the individual immigrant’s experience adjusting to America and their attempts at upward mobility. Be they nostalgic or critical, such films helped fill a gap in the general public’s knowledge and pave the way for more socially conscious filmmaking.

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April 14: The Next Landmark Day For Immigrant Equality

Wednesday April 14 will be a landmark day for ensuring the equality of all voices in the American public sphere.  It is the day that Ugly Betty, the popular ABC series chronicling a young Mexican-American woman’s adventures of beating the odds in the Big Apple, will come to an end after four seasons. That same evening, The Opportunity Agenda will convene artists, advocates, and media makers in New York City for conversation and collaboration on the power of arts, culture, and media activities in promoting the dignity and human rights of immigrants in the United States.  What do these two events have to do with each other and the broader fight for equality in America? Everything.

Giving equal respect to the stories and voices of all who live here is an essential democratic value and critical to expanding opportunity in America. Since 2006, Ugly Betty (starring actress America Ferrera) has confronted such hot-button subjects as body image, gay teenagers, and, notably, illegal immigration without becoming expressly political or polarizing. When the first season revealed that Betty’s father, Ignacio Suarez (Tony Plana), was undocumented and could be deported, the show received both cheers and jeers for touching such a sensitive issue at the height of the immigration debate during the Bush administration.

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Immigration: Arts, Culture & Media 2010

A true shift in consciousness can only come when people begin to see the world not as it is, but as it should be. While advocates can provide powerful arguments and compelling data, it is artists and media makers who create a window into the possible.

To truly move hearts and minds, artists, advocates, and media makers must collaborate deeply, developing a shared vision and a coordinated set of strategies for achieving it.

It was with this in mind that The Opportunity Agenda launched our Arts + Culture Initiative. The hope is to create a space for collaboration, strengthening the work of advocates and allowing artists and media makers to make an impact on the issues that matter to them. Designed to move the social justice movement towards greater innovation, the Initiative serves as a catalyst for inspiration and action, incubating new ideas, relationships, and opportunities to move beyond traditional modes of organizing and activating constituencies.

Our next event is entitled Immigration: Arts, Culture & Media 2010; A Timely Conversation with Artists and Advocates. Taking place Wednesday, April 14, the forum will explore the power of arts, culture, and media activities in promoting the dignity and human rights of immigrants in the United States.

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National Endowment for the Arts Gets a Raise from The House... Now We Need The Senate!

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $15 million increase for both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for FY 2010, as my good friend Cecil Thompson just e-mailed me.

This is Great! The problems with the economy are hurting the performing arts spaces big time... from the Metropolitan Opera down to many of the smaller companies and performance groups in your own regions.

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The Economic Stimulus Plan and the Arts.

A very small percentage of Obama's $825 Billion Economic Stimulus Plan is supposed to be spent on the arts, primarily through the administration of the NEA and the NEH. Already there has been protest from the political right against such expenditures - primarily coming from places like the American Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.

The argument is that this is really "pork" money and does not stimulate the economy. Yet it has been pointed out by the NEA that the very small amount of money ($50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts) when compared to the overall $825 Billion is actually placed more efficiently into the economy and establishes over 6,000 jobs. While the arts organizations that are financed by NEA grants may have only 2 or 10 or 25 employees, there are hundreds of organizations and they add up to the same kind of impact as a large corporation like an airline or a bank.

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