The early 20th century was a historical game changer. New immigrants were entering America by the millions, disenfranchised minorities were fighting against the prejudice that kept them down and the social ruling class were trying to deal with the changes that were becoming obvious.
In 1975, E.L. Doctorow published Ragtime, a novel based around three different families living in America in the years leading up to World War I. Intertwining fictional characters with the real life events and personalities, the novel bring to life the era in brilliant color and sound.
In 1981, the book was made into a film. Tateh (Mandy Patinkin) is a Jewish widower who has recently immigrated from Eastern Europe with his daughter, hoping for a better life. Mother (Mary Steenburgen) is the matriarch of an upper middle class WASP family. Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E Rollins Jr) is an African-American fighting against the injustice of the era while trying to win back his ex/mother of his child, Sarah (Debbie Allen).
The danger of a story like Ragtime, with a large cast of characters and multiple story lines running concurrently is that the reader/viewer can easily get lost. But not this story. Times may have changed, but human beings are still human beings. Which is exactly why this movie still holds up after more than 30 years.
I recommend it.