The Greek American Image in American Cinema

How American films depict Greek Americans tells us more about American culture than about Greek Americans. Cinema generally reflects contemporary cultural beliefs. By presenting those values in vivid forms, cinema reinforces them. The general rule is that screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, and actors do not have any special knowledge of Greek America and reproduce the dominant negative and positive cultural stereotypes. Far less common is an attempt to consciously reshape those perceptions.

The following filmography, which offers an account of the image of Greek Americans in American cinema, reveals how mainstream America has perceived Greek Americans at any given moment and how American cinema has reacted to that perception. For our purposes, Greek America is composed of immigrants and any offspring who self-define themselves as Greek.

In order to make the filmography useful, we have created five rating categories of one G to five Gs. These are not esthetic or approval rankings; they are indicators of the nature of the Greek American dimension of any given film.

GGGGG: Indicates a film whose major character is a Greek American and whose Greek heritage is the central element in thefilm’s plot line. Few Hollywood films fit into this category while almost all independent films made by Greek Americans do.For an example, see the entry for Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef.

GGGG: Indicates a film with a major or minor character whose Greekness is integral to the film, but that Greekness is not the film’s dominant cultural concern. There are a considerable number of these films. For an example, see the completed full entry for City Hall.

GGG: Indicates a film with a major or minor character who is clearly identified as a Greek American, but whose ethnicity is not vigorously explored. This is a common practice. For an example, see the completed full entry for Mr. Lucky.

GG: Indicates a film with a minor Greek American character whose ethnic identity is barely noted. Greekness often is only indicated by the character’s name. Whether a film’s Greek character is GGG or GG is often a close call. For an example, see the completed full entry for Milk.

G: Indicates a film with a very minor character who could be of any ethnic heritage and may not even have a speaking role. This designation also indicates films based on another medium in which a character who was originally Greek has been given a different ethnicity or a mainstream identity. For an example, see the completed full entry for A Streetcar Named Desire.

The filmography that follows is a work in progress. Presently, we are offering the titles of American films with Greek American characters, their date of production, and their Greekness ranking. Over the course of the next year, we will offer full production credits and plot summaries for each film. Our filmography includes both Hollywood and mainstream fiction films; but we have not included documentaries or films made by producers in other nations.

This filmography has been compiled by the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College-City University of New York and the University of Michigan.


Greek Americans in American Cinema (1912-2009)