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Italy Meets Africa

Colonial Discourses in Italian Cinema

Series:

Roberta Di Carmine

Over the past few decades, Italian colonial cinema has proved to be a compelling area to explore artistic productions born during the colonial and fascist periods whose unique ideology shifted from propaganda to fiction. The films produced during the Italian colonial intervention in Africa, which lasted roughly seventy-five years, reflect cinema’s recollection of political beliefs and its aesthetic attention to colonialism while exposing its ideological contradictions. Italian colonial films mirror imperial ideology influenced by a racial hierarchy that was acted upon during the colonization of Africa.
This study on images of Italian and African identities displayed in these films today invites viewers to reflect on racially constructed images that speak of justice and loyalty, values that reflect nationalist and patriotic ideals defining but also confining the identities of both Africans and Italians. The films analyzed in this book include Attilio Gatti’s Siliva Zulu (1927); Mario Camerini’s Kif tebbi (1928); Augusto Genina’s Squadrone bianco (1936). To conclude this journey through colonial discourses in Italian cinema, two examples of contemporary cinema given by Bernardo Bertolucci in L’assedio (1998) and Cristina Comencini in Bianco e Nero (2007) expand the study from colonial national and cultural identity to interracial relationships in today’s multiethnic Italy. The representations of African and Italian identities found in these two contemporary films grow into compelling visual documents of a historical connection that does not seem to move forward from its colonial mentality.
These films’ analyses are helpful tools for understanding the growing racial intolerance which has been troubling Italian society in the past decade. The need remains crucial to explain the racial component of the relationship between Italy and Africa by looking at the imagery of national and cultural identity found in the films shot in Africa during the Italian expansionist intervention in the 1920s and 1930s.

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Chapter Two. Screening Colonialism in Libya: Mario Camerini and Kif Tebbi (1928) 23

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Chapter Two Screening Colonialism in Libya: Mario Camerini and Kif Tebbi (1928) History and Cinema: Italian Colonial Cinema in Libya Italian films conceived during the colonial years have commonly generated historical views on colonialism among the Italians with images and narratives that evoke, even today, the formation of a national and racial identity as seen through the colonial frame of mind. However, there is a significant artistic component in colonial cinema, and that lies in the unique approaches these films took in reproducing the colonial reality and in re-conceptualizing history. As pointed out by film historian Pierre Sorlin, history in itself is an attempt to delineate facts and events.1 Cinema complicates the interpretation of facts by relying on the illusion that films provide a certain reality while entertaining the audience. When watching colonial films whose stories refer to specific historical periods, events, and settings, spectators are exposed to situations familiar to them (for instance, the Italian soldiers fighting for the colonial territories) and validate the depictions historically. The acceptance of the Italian colonial presence in Africa as a glorifying moment in Italian history, despite its numerous political defeats and inglorious outcomes, exemplifies the importance of films conceived during political turmoil because of their artistic and ideological function in that context. As mentioned in the previous chapter, a crucial Italian colonial operation in Africa occurred in Libya’s provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (Turkish War, 1911–1912). The Italian political colonial expansionism reached its highest peak during the fascist regime when the...

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