The Immigrant in Bartos Screening Room. Photo: Brian Palmer

Screening America

Screening America uses film and television to help teach English, English as a Second Language, and Social Studies, with a focus on topics in American History. A Museum educator introduces the film program and guides a post-screening discussion. Students experience a historic film or television episode in the Museum’s state-of-the-art screening facilities. Live musical accompaniment is available for silent film screenings.

Shorts and Television Shows

Shorts and television episodes are designed to be coupled with a Behind the Screen guided tour, and are available to students in: grades 4-5, grades 6-8, grades 9-12, as well as college & university students.

Silent Comedy and the Immigrant Experience
The Immigrant (1917)

Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed, and starred in this poignant, hilarious comedy about an immigrant’s arrival in New York City. For English-language learners and those studying American history, viewing this classic encourages discussion about the use of humor and music in film—and the American immigrant experience. Surcharge for live musical accompaniment: $160.

Women at Work in the Fifties
I Love Lucy, "Job Switching" (1952)

Lucille Ball stars in one of the funniest sitcom episodes in television history, in which housewives and friends Lucy and Ethel go to work in a chocolate factory while their husbands (Ricky and Fred) take over the housework. This deceptively simple premise offers rich insight into the roles that middle-class American men and women were expected to play in the 1950s. Click here to download the I Love Lucy study guide.

Feature-length Films

Feature length films can be coupled with a Behind the Screen guided tour, or a self-guided visit, and are available to students in grades 9-12 as well as college and university students, and certain selections are available for grades 6-8 as well. Given their historic context, feature length films are recommended for groups looking for a program with specific curricular alignments to American History topics.

Prejudice and the Jury System (Grades 6 and up)
12 Angry Men (1957, 93 mins)

This taut film, starring Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet, centers on the deliberations of twelve jurors who must decide whether or not to send a young man to the electric chair. The jurors’ impassioned discussions and conflicts prompt students to address still-current questions about truth, objectivity, peer pressure, and the American jury system.

The Struggle for Equality during the Civil Rights Movement (Grades 6 and up)
In the Heat of the Night (1967, 110 mins)

This pioneering racial drama (which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture) prompts discussion of the history of civil rights in America and the portrayal of African Americans on film. Made during the height of the 1960s civil rights movement, it features Sidney Poitier as a homicide detective from Philadelphia who is enlisted by a bigoted sheriff to help solve a murder in a small Southern town.

Urban Life in the Twenties (Grades 9 and up)
The Crowd (1928, 104 mins)

A young office clerk who aspires to fame and fortune struggles to succeed in 1920s New York. This landmark silent drama, featuring vivid on-location photography, challenges students to think anew about their own futures and what today’s city holds for them. This is a silent film presented with live musical accompaniment.

Presidential Campaigns, Television, and the Internet (Grades 9 and up)
The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2008 (45 mins)

Ever since television first emerged as a mass medium in the early 1950s, presidential candidates have tried to sell themselves on TV. By viewing and discussing a selection of advertisements from the 1950s through the 2008 election, students learn about the history of presidential campaign commercials.

Exploring the Documentary Form (Grades 9 and up)
Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987, 85 mins)

Letters written home by American servicemen and servicewomen in Vietnam—read by Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Ellen Burstyn, and others—are interwoven with Vietnam War footage and songs by important artists of the time, including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. This moving film raises questions for students about the function and power of documentaries.

Race, Class, and Corruption in American Politics (Grades 9 and up)
Bulworth (1998, 108 mins)

In this compelling satire, directed by and starring Warren Beatty, a suicidal U.S. senator, disillusioned by the loss of his ideals, begins speaking boldly about the shortcomings of the American political system. The film encourages students to reconsider the roles of race, class, and money in American life.