What’s It Like Being Black In Italy?

What is life like for Black people living in Italy?

Writer Kai Lutterodt recently spoke to Fred Kuwornu a Ghanaian-Italian filmmaker, writer and activist during a trip to London to find out.

He was in the UK for a screening of his latest film Blaxploitalian: 100 years of Blackness in the Italian Cinema which explores Italy’s long and often hidden relationship to ‘blackness’ in contemporary Italy from the turn of 20th Century.

What is life like for a Black Italian?

The life for a Black Italian is really difficult right now. There is a lack of opportunities for those who are of African descent and the access to many professions is difficult. One reason for this is also the fact the Italy is a country where it is easier getting a job if you know someone or you are friend of people who are Italian so for this reason many immigrants are cut off from opportunities. Being an Italian citizen is not enough if you are Black.

How do Black people in Italy feel about their identity?

From my personal experience, I realised that there are a lot of Italians of African descent, who were not necessarily born in Italy, however they came when they were really young; for example refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia or other African countries might have come to Italy when they were three or four years old and then they leave from Italy to many other parts of the world such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe because their parents decided to move.

For many of them, the Italian culture, the language, the behaviour is the primary culture that they have, even if they have lived the last 20 years outside of Italy. They still consider themselves as Italian.

There are many situations in the UK where there are people who arrived as refugees, but are now British, and before arriving, they stayed in Italy for six, seven, eight years. Also inside the international community you will find people with different passports, maybe they don’t have the Italian passport, but they have the Italian culture, the Italian language. For me this is phenomenal. I think that sometimes we have to think how a country or a culture of a country can be powerful for everyone who is in transit in its country not only in Italy but in everywhere.

IN DISCUSSION: Kuwornu discussed his film at the UAL Diversity Matters Awareness Week during a recent visit to London

What inspired you to make Blaxploitalian?

I decided to produce Blaxploitalian after I saw an article in the UK press about 50 Black British actors, including Idris Elba, who were starting a petition to the BBC to demand more on-screen and off-screen diversity in the UK. This article inspired me to understand that the situation is worse in Italy but also in the US and in countries like France, people of colour are underrepresented or stereotyped when they have been casted for roles.

The situation is just as bad off-screen where women, people with disabilities and many other groups in society are not represented in film and the media. Blaxploitalian is not only a documentary about Black people, it’s a documentary about diversity.

What has the response of Black Italians been to Blaxploitalian?

FK: Many people at the test screening we did in US before approaching the UK and Europe, understood how dangerous it is for a society to have a media that isn’t telling the stories of all the citizens of a society.

For example, in US more than 12 per cent of the population are Latinos but in Hollywood they feature in only 4.9 per cent of the roles cast and if they are women they are often stereotyped or sexualised.

I hope to empower Afro-Italians who see this film. We are also launching a global movement and campaign called #DiversityinMediaMatters to make a global change not just a local change in the opportunities available for talented creatives who are working in the film industry.

We believe that talent is everywhere but the opportunity is not.

Where is Italy with race relations? Is there hope for the future of Black Italians?

Italy, maybe because of its colonial past, tried to remove the presence of Black Italians in the history of the last 50 years of the country. Now we are having a national conversation about race it’s very difficult but it’s a beginning. We have a huge generation of young Black Italians who are empowering themselves and discovering that they need to start to make a change in the country if they want to be a part of the society.

I am really sure they will change the mentality of Italy because they are brilliant, and also because movements are now global and it’s easier to create a platform from which to launch social campaigns for change.

Matteo Ferrari – Footballer
Paolo Dal Molin – Athlete
Edwige Gwend – Karatè
Jacques Riparelli – Athlete
Audrey Alloh – Athlete
Jaco Erasmus – Rugby player
Marcello Fiasconaro – Athlete
Mario Balotelli – footballer
Eseosa Desalu – Athlete

Ahmed Aboul Gheit – Diplomat
Cécile Kyenge – Politician
Magdi Allam – Politician
Dacia Valent – Politician
Jean-Léonard Touadi – Politician

Media and literature
Nour Eddine – Singer and filmmaker
Edwige Fenech – Actress
Saba Anglana – Singer and actress
Senhit – Singer
Remo Girone – Actor
Sandra Milo – Actress

■To find out more about Fred Kuwornu and his latest film Blaxploitalian: 100 Years of Blackness in the Italian Cinema please visit: www.blaxploitalian.com


By: Kai Lutterodt