Forgotten Ellis Island

Watch Forgotten Ellis Island

  • TV-PG
  • 2007
  • 56 min
  • 7.5  (112)

Forgotten Ellis Island is a powerful documentary film that offers an insightful glimpse into the lives of thousands of immigrants who passed through the historic Ellis Island, but were left behind and forgotten due to illness, disability, or prejudice. Directed by Lorie Conway and produced by the Ellis Island Restoration Commission, the movie blends archival footage, reenactments, interviews, and narration to create a compelling story of loss, resilience, and hope.

The film begins with a brief overview of Ellis Island, the iconic gateway to America that opened in 1892 and processed over 12 million immigrants until its closure in 1954. The narrators explain how Ellis Island was the scene of many emotional and dramatic moments, as families were separated, dreams were shattered, and new beginnings were born. However, the focus soon shifts to the forgotten side of Ellis Island, the side that was hidden from the public for almost a century.

The documentary reveals how Ellis Island had a dark side that was characterized by neglect, isolation, and discrimination. Those who arrived at Ellis Island and showed signs of illness, disability, or mental instability were often detained, quarantined, and subjected to harsh medical examinations, sometimes without their consent or understanding. The reasons for detention were often arbitrary, as even minor ailments such as varicose veins or an enlarged thyroid could trigger a rejection or a prolonged stay. Some immigrants were falsely labeled as feeble-minded, insane, or diseased, based on flawed or biased tests that reflected the prevailing eugenics theories of the time.

The movie then introduces several poignant stories that illustrate the human impact of Ellis Island's forgotten side. One of the most powerful stories is that of Antonio Mangano, an Italian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island in 1910 and was detained for over three years due to suspected tuberculosis. The movie interweaves Mangano's personal memoir, written decades later, with reenactments and historical footage, to show the enduring trauma and resilience of a man who lost his youth, health, and family due to a flawed system that treated him as a threat. Mangano's story is a microcosm of the thousands of immigrants who suffered in silence and anonymity, hidden behind the walls of Ellis Island's hospital complex.

The movie also highlights the efforts of several activists and researchers who have uncovered the forgotten side of Ellis Island and worked to preserve its legacy. The narrators interview Alan Kraut, a historian who wrote a book on Ellis Island's medical inspections, and Howard Markel, a physician who studied the ethics and politics of public health. Both experts offer insights into the challenges and controversies of controlling epidemics and safeguarding public health in a democracy, and how Ellis Island became a symbol of both progress and oppression in the early 20th century.

Throughout the film, the audience learns about the medical, social, and political context of Ellis Island's forgotten side, as well as the personal stories of those who experienced it. The film skillfully combines historical facts, emotional narratives, and visual aesthetics to create a multi-dimensional portrayal of a complex and troubling phenomenon. The movie also raises important questions about the legacy of Ellis Island, the role of human rights in public health, and the need for empathy and understanding towards the most vulnerable members of society.

Overall, Forgotten Ellis Island is a must-see film for anyone interested in American history, migration studies, public health, social justice, or human resilience. The film is a testament to the power of storytelling to uncover the hidden truths of our past and inspire us to build a better future. Whether you are a descendant of immigrants, a healthcare worker, a policy maker, or a curious citizen, you will find something in this film that will resonate with you and challenge you to think critically about the issues of our time.

Forgotten Ellis Island is a 2007 documentary with a runtime of 56 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.5.

Forgotten Ellis Island
Where to Watch Forgotten Ellis Island
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    56 min
  • IMDB Rating
    7.5  (112)