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Italy Meets Africa

Colonial Discourses in Italian Cinema


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 Three. The Good Italian Soldier in Squadrone bianco (White Squadron, 1936) 47


Chapter Three The Good Italian Soldier in Squadrone bianco (White Squadron, 1936) Italian Cinema in the 1930s Since the late 1920s, cinema was the most popular Italian media after radio. This popularity grew when, thanks to the advent of sound, cinema proved to be successful in reaching the vast majority of the people living in Italy and in the Italian colonies.1 Film historian Carlo Bordoni notes that most of the cinema productions of the fascist regime were meant to highlight the heroic and sentimental traits of the Italians.2 Interestingly, despite the Italian cinema’s increasing popularity during fascism, only a few films can really be identified as fascist. Bordoni names the following as fascist films: Camicia Nera (Blackshirts, 1933, by Giovacchino Forzano), Vecchia Guardia (The Old Guard, 1934, by Alessandro Blasetti), and Redenzione (Redemption, 1942, by Marcello Albani). The small number of films classified as fascist seems to imply the regime’s failure to promote propagandistic values through films, contrary to the successful outcomes from other European dictatorships.3 Yet, despite Bordoni’s re-evaluation of a fascist cinema, the creation of the Direzione Generale per la Cinematografia, a political institution led by Luigi Freddi in 1932, shows the fascist regime’s involvement with the film industry and the increasing production of films that celebrate Italians’ moral values. Together with the Direzione Generale, the state intervention helps fascism develop an Italian cinema aimed at controlling production and distribution. The fascist regime had positive effects on the film industry since, as discussed in the previous chapter, it...

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