Harvest of Empire


There’s a dignified outrage to Harvest of Empire—most of it warranted—but it too often acts as a driving force rather than the grace note it might otherwise have been. A history lesson on immigrant relations in the United States, the film traces the roots of Latin American émigrés back to a series of acts carried out by the American government in the 19th and 20th centuries. At nearly every turn, co-directors Peter Getzels and Eduardo López (as well as their many interviewees) either shed light on an underreported incident or make a compelling point, but there are few moments at which their collective argument is elegantly delivered: You’re expected to be as immediately convinced of the film’s premises as they are. This frequent heavy-handedness is a strike against a documentary whose facts are more than strong—and often eye-opening—enough to stand on their own. Harvest of Empire is never quite wrong, but it’s effectiveness is inversely proportional to how hard it’s trying. “American history is replete with upsurges of anti-immigrant fervor. . . . There’s always an attempt of those who came a while ago to then paint those who came more recently as a problem.” Lines like this are so salient that they don’t need to be oversold.

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