Opening the “Golden Door” to America
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These words, from Emma Lazarus’s poem about the Statue of Liberty entitled “The New Colossus,” embody the struggles that Sicilians endured in their homeland and on their journey to America.
The film “Nuovomondo,” directed by Emanuele Crialese, played at the Quick Center for the Arts last Wednesday evening on Feb. 29. It portrayed the emotional and physically tiring passage of Sicilians to America in the nineteenth century.
The film was screened with special guest Vincenzo Amato, an actor in the movie, in conjunction with display of “From Italy to America: Photographs of Anthony Riccio,” which currently resides at the Bellarmine Museum.
“Nuovomondo” translates into English as “Golden Door,” representative of the movie’s storyline. The film follows a family of Sicilians that face adversity, but ultimately open the “golden door” to new opportunities in a modern world.
The film begins with Sicilians living in the “old world,” one filled with pagan influences and no technology. Crialese uses life-size vegetables and rivers of milk to symbolize the ideal of America as a place of endless food and contentment.
Most would describe the cinematography as breathtaking, ironically placed against characters that experience the filthy conditions of living aboard a ship for two to three weeks on their way to America.
“The film is unique in its focus on the Mancuso family’s leave-taking,” said Professor Mary Ann Carolan of Modern Language and Literature. “Their departure from the homeland signals a farewell to family and friends, as well as to the comforts of familiar habits and social mores.
Carolan continued, “In this way, the fears and hopes of the Mancuso family resonate with similar stories of our own ancestors who left home to come to America.”
The role of Fortunata, the strong Italian matriarch in the film, is a standout example of a struggling immigrant whose culture and ideals stand in the way of immigration. At the end of the film, she is labeled “feeble-minded” for failing to complete an English competency exam and is deported back to her homeland. Yet, she is elated to go back to her own promised land of Sicily, which she sees as the land she will always call home.
Critics have also complimented Vincenzo Amato on his preparation for the role of Salvatore Mancuso, which included months of living with shepherds in Sicily. In order for him to get into character, he camped outside and took limited showers. His hard work in the film got him a nomination for the David di Donatello Award as best actor.
Amato himself is a native of Palermo who moved to America in 1993 and met the director of the film Crialese shortly after at New York University. He described his own story of immigration as a young boy on a plane, a much more comfortable transition in comparison to the conditions faced by his character.
Louis Greco ‘15 always heard stories of his Italian ancestors’ voyages to the United States, but the film gave him a fresh, first person account of immigration. Greco compared the way Americans treated immigrants to the rule: “You have to be a certain height to ride this rollercoaster.”
Greco continued, “The Americans only allowed ‘the cream of the crop’ to be accepted because they didn’t want to be slowed down by people who [they felt] would not benefit their country.”
“Nuovomondo” provides a new perspective on immigrants and a better appreciation for those who risked everything for the future of millions of citizens today.