February 20, 2008
When travelers made their way to the New World in the early 20th Century, during one of this country's most massive waves of immigration, they were greeted at Ellis Island with a battery of tests, both physical and mental.
The tests, according to Georgia State University law professor Paul Lombardo, were aimed at keeping out undesirable immigrants who may be suffering from physical ailments or “feeble-mindedness.” Lombardo, an expert on this country's eugenics movement and the history of laws aimed at shaping society's makeup, put that expertise to work as a historical consultant on the feature film “Golden Door,” recently released on DVD after a run through American theaters last summer.
Lombardo, in consultation with the film's writer-director, Emanuele Crialese, helped inform scenes of immigrants passing though Ellis Island as officials tested the new arrivals' physical health and their mental aptitude. The film's plot involves an English woman who secures passage to America, and her interactions with a family of Sicilians hoping to find a new home in the U.S.
Lombardo says immigration officials at the time were practicing what was cutting-edge science and trying to ensure only healthy and mentally sound immigrants were allowed to stay.
“What [the director] wanted was to be sure his vision of what was going on when people came across the Atlantic and ended up at Ellis Island in 1910, or during the era, was accurate,” says Lombardo, who has previously done consulting work on documentary films dealing with race and eugenics. “He wanted to be sure he got that sequence of going into Ellis Island, being physically examined and being mentally examined – he wanted to get that right.”
“Golden Door,” distributed by Miramax, is presented with an introduction by famed producer-director Martin Scorsese, who is of Italian descent.