The Greek American Image in American Cinema

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How American films depict Greek Americans tells us more about American culture than about Greek Americans. Movies, in brief, usually present Greek Americans as seen by others, not as self-projected.

by Dan Georgakas

This is a result of the circumstances that movies reflect contemporary cultural assumptions. The general rule is that screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, and actors do not have any special knowledge of Greek America. Therefore, they can only reproduce the dominant cultural stereotypes of their times. By presenting those values in vivid formats, movies reinforce or validate them. Even filmmakers with a Greek heritage often find success by satisfying rather than questioning the assumptions of mainstream audiences. Filmmakers who consciously attempt to reshape or challenge established perceptions are rare.

Just how American films actually depict Greek Americans has never been systematically addressed. To begin to meet that need, Vassili Lambropoulos (Modern Greek Program: University of Michigan) and I (Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College, NY) have conducted a joint project to create a filmography of American fiction films that feature Greek Americans. In this venture, we have received and continue to receive invaluable feedback from a score of interested scholars and students, here and abroad. They have helped us to locate the great majority of American films that deal with Greek Americans.

We believe the filmography we have developed allows scholars to examine how mainstream Americans have perceived Greek Americans at any given historical moment and to establish any long-term patterns that may have emerged during a century of filmmaking. Our definition of Greek American is any immigrant to America or any offspring of an immigrant, however far-removed, who claims Greek identity. We have not included any fiction films that are less than feature length or any documentaries. Nor have we included films set in Greece or Cyprus unless Greek Americans are characters. We have included silent films known to us, but we have not scrutinized silent film production systematically.

Our long-term goal has been to establish the basic production credits and plot analysis of each film. We have also indicated, where appropriate, how that film reflects any thematic cycle we have uncovered. In order to make the filmography practical, we have set up a rating system based on the letter G (for Greek) to indicate the nature of each film’s Greek American dimension. These rankings are not to be confused as rankings based on artistic or social merit.

A ranking of GGGGG indicates a film whose major character is Greek American and whose Greek heritage is a central element in the film’s plot line. Few Hollywood films fit into this category while almost all independent films made by Greek Americans do. For an example of a Hollywood film in this category see the entry for Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef. This film was chosen as a prime example of this category due to its focus on the Greek sponge divers of Tarpon Springs and its treatment of a romance between a Greek and a non-Greek.

A ranking of GGGG indicates a film with a major or minor character whose Greekness is integral to the film, but is not its central theme. For an example see the entry for City Hall. This film features Al Pacino as a Greek mayor of New York City whose Greekness only surfaces occasionally.

A ranking of 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 fairly large category. For an example, see the entry for Mr. Lucky in which Cary Grant plays a Greek American gambler. A letter from Greece alters his life.

A ranking of 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. For an example, see the entry for Milk. In this film, Art Agnos, a real-life Greek American politician who became mayor of San Francisco has a momentary spotlight in the film’s plot, but he is Greek-identified only by his name.

A ranking of G indicates a film with a very minor character that could be of any ethnic heritage and may not even have a speaking role. We have also used this designation to indicate 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 unusual example of this category see A Streetcar Named Desire. This theater/film classic set in New Orleans contains a line of Greek spoken by a supposedly Hispanic character.

All titles with a G rating have been seen by at least one of the following: Dan Georgakas, Steve Frangos, or Vassili Lambropoulos. All titles with a (?) rating are tentative as they have not been seen or have not been seen recently by Georgakas, Frangos, or Lambropoulos. The synopsis for these films is taken from third party sources, which include individuals, indexes, press releases, web sites, and other materials. Incomplete entries will be completed as we are able to gather accurate data. The entry for each film is written by Georgakas with a second look by Lambropoulos, Frangos, and Elaine Thomopoulos. Basic research is primarily the work of Georgakas and Frangos. Anna Moniodis and Maria Kassaras did considerable initial research locating and gathering data on some 50 of the films. Many other individuals, including colleagues in Greece and Australia, have assisted in indentifying specific films.

This is an ongoing project which will be updated annually for new films, additions of missed films, and corrections. We welcome comments, additions, and corrections. We can be reached at: and

For the list of films, please click here.


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