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Africa in Italy

Leonardo De Francesci, University ROMA TRE

In recent years critical reflection on the so-called Italian cinema of immigration has grown richer, thanks mainly to the contribution made by Italianists.

For my part, I have identified the common horizon of reference in movies that show signs of the presence ascribed to African people or people of African descent, in terms of a diegetic (characters) and / or operational (filmmakers) agency and I consider it to be productive for the purposes of my analysis to fulfill a double cutting operation. First of all, I shall consider only films made from 1989 onwards. I agree with most analysts on the historical importance in time of this particular year, not only for obvious reasons of international politics, but also for the internal effects of two key events such as the murder of Jerry Masslo and the approval of the first decree on immigration. This act has symbolically marked Italy’s passage from a (not too distant) emigration destination to a crossroad for migratory trajectories that start from the southern Mediterranean and east Europe, causing the recirculation and reconfiguration of old ghosts and places of the colonial imagery of Africa; secondly, I will focus my attention on the junction of actorship, excluding any consideration on the signs of subjectivity expressed by directors and other types of filmmakers of African origin or descent.
In other words, the set of films produced in Italy since 1989, in which there is at least an actor or a role that is African or of African descent will be identified as a potential reference corpus. We are talking about well over three hundred feature films, including minor co-productions and titles that are not covered by the Archivio del Cinema Italiano ANICA but are present in other databases. My intention is to analyze the strategies that have marked the Italian post-1989 cinema of African and diasporic interest, through symptomatic analysis of post-colonial inspiration, based on a tendentious interpretation of the notion of actor’s politics. It is therefore all about reorganizing the original acceptation of Luc Moullet (1993). Already the politique was in turn altered from the original definition of the Cahiers du cinéma in the light of the politics on which so much reflection in the postcolonial  film studies insists. We therefore include both the agency and the authorship of the actors, as much as the actor’s casting and direction strategies which operate in a particular film. These constitute a subjectivity / authority, which is always multiple and negotiable, and which swings between the two dominant poles of a producer and director.
A critique of the ways of representation which pays special attention to the whole sphere of ways of production and expression cannot underestimate the impact of the actor’s politics in the construction process of the filmic semiosis, according to the model pioneered by Shohat and Stam. We examine titles in which subjects of different cultures meet either on the film’s intra or extratextual level (either in their diegetic world or in their modes of production), and which take place in either a host country or a country through which a transit of migration flows (in this case I prefer the more specific term of cinema of coexistence). And so, in other terms, when we analyze a particular title that can be attributed to an extended notion of intercultural film (see: Heffelfinger and Wright, 2010) we need to question the kind of performers who are chosen to embody the characters of migrants or non-Italian residents.
Many solutions are available: Italian vs. performer of non-Italian origin, non-Italian non-professional vs. professional, non-Italian local professional vs. imported professional. The multiple soutions produce a series of very precise effects on the concrete performance conditions by channeling a performance in the name of empathized or mimetic acting, in its construction of a fictional character rather than a standard model.
The politics of actors is hegemonic in the post 1989 Italian cinema of the African dispora, even though it is justified, in individual cases, by the need for productive or symbolic order. My work hypothesis is that it created a specific impact on the dominant knowledge-power, helping to consolidate it, and also delaying the expansion of a group of actors of non Italian origin.

The complete article can be read in Italian here: Africa in Italia