Nick Griffin, then leader of the British far-right party BNP, famously said in 2009 that are no Black people in Wales. He would probably be surprised to find out that they exist in Italy, too. Lack of representation and misrepresentation of Blacks in the media, particularly in cinema, is not a problem exclusive to the UK, and it is likely far more pronounced in the Mediterranean country.
Maids, prostitutes, sorceresses, drug dealers and illiterate immigrants who barely speak Italian – according to the doc Blaxploitalian these were the roles commonly allocated to Black people in Italy. They are not suitable to be doctors and police officers, a tacit rule in Italian cinema seems to mandate. The astoundingly beautiful Letizia Sedrik was once turned down from a movie role for “sounding too Italian”, a privilege reserved for those with less melanine, and lucky enough to be born north of the Mediterranean.
This 62-minute featurette will take you on an insightful and didactic journey throughout the history of Black representation in Italian cinema, from Salambo (Domenico Gaido, 1915) to present days. Gaido’s film was the first one in the country to include a Black actor, conveniently uncredited (even now his name seems to remain a mistery). It includes interviews with notorious Afro-Italian actors such as Tezeta Abraham and Denny Andreína Méndez (who represented Italy in the Miss Universe 1997 and placed Top 6, stirring plenty controversy as to whether she was entitled to stand for the nation).
The director highlights that racism is intimate linked to the non-acknowledgement of past events. According to Kuwornu, Italians have wiped their colonial actions in the Horn of Africa from memory. They forgot that the Fascist regime openly encouraged Italians to move to places like Somalia, and it used images of sexy local woman in order to attract people. Their bodies were eroticised and painted as primitive, the movie claims. Conversely, Fascits chose to depict small and thin males, lest the virility of the average Black male intimidated Europeans.
This is essential watching as well as an action-to-call for anyone interested in Black representation in cinema and Italy’s racist stance towards foreigners. On the other hand, the discussions in the film remain largely confined to race, and the content is a little esoteric. The film opens up with British actor Idris Elba talking about diversity being more than skin colour, and also including age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, social background, sexual orientation, class and “diversity of thought”, yet the ensuing film narrative is mostly centred around race.
Blaxploitalian will show in February as part of the Pan African Film and Arts Festival in Los Angeles. And you can click here for information about film distribution and other screenings.
Don’t forget to view the film trailer below: