The Insular Empire

What is it like to be a colonial subject of the greatest democracy on earth?
Year Released
Film Length(s)
59 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


The Insular Empire is the first film to document the United States’ historical – and ongoing – role as a colonial power.

Featured review

It's been a long time since I've seen such an impressive documentary - The Insular Empire should be a wake-up call for all Americans.
Chalmers Johnson
Author of the Blowback Trilogy and Professor Emeritus, Political Science, UC San Diego


Six thousand miles west of California, the Mariana Islands are American territory; but after generations of loyalty, the people of Guam and the Northern Marianas still remain second-class US citizens. Following the personal stories of four indigenous island leaders, this provocative film explores the history of American colonization in the Pacific - a moving story of loyalty and betrayal, about a patriotic island people struggling to find their place within the American political family. This landmark film is an ideal cross-disciplinary resource, appropriate for courses in American Studies, US or Pacific History, Colonial and post-Colonial Studies, Ethnic Studies, Native American Studies, Geography, Anthropology, Law, Peace & Conflict Studies, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology, and Political Science.


Visually engaging, tightly edited and well-paced, the film is also thoroughly researched and accurate in its treatment of a lengthy historical chronology and complex political landscape. The Insular Empire is an excellent teaching tool for high school and college classes in American government, history, politics, and Pacific Studies, and for consideration of questions of imperialism, colonialism, and self-determination. This is an important documentary film, which deserves wide viewing and thoughtful discussion.
Don Rubenstein
Prof. of Anthropology and Micronesian Studies, University of Guam
Absolutely terrific. Incisive, thought-provoking, and so well made in every way. I'm so very glad that we added The Insular Empire to our collection here at USC.
Anthony Anderson
USC Libraries
The Insular Empire is a must see teaching tool for those committed to the exposure and critique of the ways U.S. exceptionalism masks and denies U.S. colonialism, both historically and how it is maintained and perpetuated in the 21st century. This excellent project grapples with the moral and legal questions regarding imperialism, military expansion, and self-determination in a way that is brilliantly incisive without being heavy handed.
J. Kehaulani Kauanui
Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology, Wesleyan University
Aims to illuminate the history that has left these islands pawns in America's global chess game. The islands' complex history is matched by a deeply conflicted identity... (and) Warheit has provided depth and character to these issues of identity by following four individuals. The compact (59-minute) and information-packed format of the film make it a valuable resource for teaching and organizing.
John Junkerman
The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
Largely accessible and thought-provoking, the film stands out as a clear reminder of the continual presence of colonialism in the contemporary Pacific at large, and thus has the potential to engage audiences both within and outside of the Marianas and the United States. The documentary proves a valuable addition to any classroom across the humanities and social sciences disciplines and, more important, has the potential to find a home in the community at large outside of academia due to its accessibility and direct confrontation of key issues that residents across social and economic lines grapple with on a daily basis.
James Perez Viernes
The Contemporary Pacific

Awards and Screenings

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • Japanese

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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