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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 Six. Conclusion: Colonial Discourses Today— Africa Occupies Italy 124


Chapter Six Conclusion: Colonial Discourses Today—Africa Occupies Italy Ever since its origins in the late 19th century, cinema has attracted audiences because of its ability to reconstruct reality immediately and directly and because of its capacity to captivate attention and simultaneously amuse. Behind the making of the early films lies the objective to entertain people and to amaze viewers with stories to which spectators found themselves irresistibly attracted. The recreation of reality gives spectators the experience of “the impression of reality,” and they are eager to identify themselves in familiar settings.1 Despite the difference that exists between what is being represented and what is, in reality, the object of representation, cinema creates a world in which viewers are convinced of its realism. This “impression of reality” conveyed in films is an element that Christian Metz describes as being essential for understanding cinema’s powerful attraction. In this cinematic world viewers experience illusions of a reality as if film were a “version” of someone’s beliefs, a representation of people’s culture or of an historical time. By producing a narrative characterized by formulas and paradigms of cinematic traditions, one can find in colonial cinema’s visual components a number of elements that on a symbolic level complicate the ideological content of a film. Over the course of the past decades, Italian colonial cinema has proved to be a compelling area for exploring cinema conceived during colonial years. If, as Brunetta and Gili have suggested, films are analyzed as “cultural containers,”2 the production...

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