My day at the movies …
This post is a continuation of of my first post about Joe Grasmick’s “Free Trade Professionals” conference that took place in September of 2023 in Mexico City. The first post described the conference and why “citizenship matters”. The morning after the conference ended I boarded a plane for a long flight. I was still thinking about citizenship and immigration.
Usually I don’t watch movies on flights. This time (who knows why) I went through the movie selection and saw two movies where “citizenship/immigration status” played a huge role (whether directly or indirectly) on the lives of individuals. (I didn’t realize this until I watched both movies.) The new 2022 movie “Elvis” and the 1942 old movie “Casablanca” were on the menu. I watched both. Some thoughts on each …
“Elvis” the movie:
A great movie. Sure, it’s about the life and times of Elvis Presley. But, the story of Elvis also includes the role of his manager’s status as an illegal alien in the United States. A partial description includes:
Afterwards, Elvis headlines at the largest showroom in Las Vegas, the International Hotel, and resumes concert tours. Parker’s control of Elvis’ life tightens as he refuses Elvis’ request for a world tour. Motivated by gambling debts, Parker manipulates Elvis into signing a contract for a five-year Las Vegas casino residency. Elvis’ problematic behavior and prescription drug addiction overtake him, and a despondent Priscilla divorces him on his 38th birthday, taking their daughter Lisa Marie with her. After discovering that Parker cannot leave the country because he is a stateless illegal immigrant, Elvis attempts to fire him. Parker subsequently informs Vernon that the family owes him an $8.5 million debt accumulated over the years and convinces Elvis of their symbiotic relationship; though the pair rarely see each other afterward, Parker continues as his manager
How might the life of Elvis Presley been different if Colonel Tom Parker had either been a U.S. citizen or had a Green Card? Would Elvis’s career have unfolded differently? For that matter would he have died at such a young age? Clearly he would have toured outside the United States.
But, enough on Elvis. The more interesting story of the role of citizenship and immigration (and how they relate to Americans abroad) is found in the 1942 classic movie “Casablanca”.
“Casablanca” the movie:
Casablanca is a true classic. Classics (whether books, movies or art) are interpreted in different ways, by different people at different stages in their lives. As the flight took off, I was still thinking about immigration and how everybody is an immigrant or alien somewhere. How certain people (because of their lack of citizenship are subject to a form of “citizenship apartheid“. Because my mind was in the world of immigration and because I had clearly been a “foreigner” in Mexico City, I saw Casablanca in a completely different light. As described by Wikipedia
“Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz, and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid. Filmed and set during World War II, it focuses on an American expatriate (Bogart) who must choose between his love for a woman (Bergman) and helping her husband (Henreid), a Czechoslovak resistance leader, escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Germans. The screenplay is based on Everybody Comes to Rick’s, an unproduced stage play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The supporting cast features Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Dooley Wilson.”
Although Casablance may be in part a “romantic drama film” it is certainly a story about oppression, refugees, human mobility, citizenship, chance, injustice and human survival. Coming off the immigration conference, I interpreted the movie largely through the lens of circumstance, citizenship, fortune driven by the accident of birth and how little is required to disrupt the life any person. As the movie makes clear from the outset, people came to Casablanca because they were fearing and trying to escape from tyranny and were generally trying to get to “the Americas” (the safe haven of the time).
This is the trailer.
It’s a great movie. It’s great entertainment for people of all ages. But, seen through the perspective of citizenship and immigration it exhibits many parallels to the lives of Americans abroad.
What follows are some clips that exhibit analogies to common scenarios.
Some meaningful clips from the movie Casablanca ..
A: Rick experiences an “Oh My God Moment”: On random events – sometimes bad things happen to good people…
B: About U.S. Citizenship and taxation – “It’s based on the circumstances of birth”
C: About the forced imposition of citizenship – Reminds me of the Accidental Americans – “I have never accepted tha privilege. I am now on French soil.”…
D: About the importance of the visa, passport and mobility documentation – It’s all relative … One way or the other, “citizenship matters”. Apparently Rick is always free (from an immigration and citizenship perspective) to return to the USA
E: “To renounce of not to renounce, that is the question”: On the meaning of the decision (including the renunciation decision) – If you don’t get on that plane (renounce), you’ll regret it …
F: Here’s looking at you kid – The U.S. extra-territorial tax regime (although a big problem is a “first world problem”)
G: I finally understood the origins of the title of the Wood Allan movie “Play It Again Sam” …
Appendix – The trailer for “Play It Again Sam”