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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 Five. Historical Past in Contemporary Italian Cinematic Culture 95


Chapter Five Historical Past in Contemporary Italian Cinematic Culture Passato e Presente. Come il presente sia una critica del passato, oltre che [e perchè] un suo “superamento.” Ma il passato è perció da buttar via? È da gettare via ciò che il presente ha criticato “intrinsecamente” e quella parte di noi stessi che a ciò corrisponde. Cosa significa ciò? che noi dobbiamo avere coscienza esatta di questa critica reale e darle un’espressione non solo teorica, ma politica. Cioé dobbiamo essere piu aderenti al presente, che noi stessi abbiamo contribuito a creare, avendo coscienza del passato e del suo continuarsi (e rivivere) (Past and Present. As if the present is a critique of the past, besides being [and because of] its own “overcoming.” But is the past thus to throw away? It is to throw away that which the present has criticized “internally” and that side of our own self that corresponds to that. What does this mean? It means that we must have a precise consciousness of this real critique and give to it a meaning not only theoretical but also political. That is, we must hold on to the present, which we ourselves have contributed to create, having a consciousness of the past and its own ongoing (and re-living)) —Antonio Gramsci (1977) Past and Present: Africa in Italy More than seventy years after the end of the Italian occupation in Africa, Italy and Africa are still entrenched in a complex relationship. With the end of World War Two, colonialism and fascism...

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