The 17th Italian parliamentary term (2017) shall be infamously remembered as the one in which politicians making up the majority gave up on introducing the question of citizenship reform for debate on the floor. Politicians as a whole are responsible for making the serious choice of postponing the re-drafting of the existing iniquitous and inadequate legislation on the matter. Once again the State decided that the over 800,000 students children of immigrants, who attend Italian schools can wait. In these over 20 years of struggles for citizenship reform, the country’s consciousness has been raised in relation to the presence of a new collective subject, the second generations, which are capable of mobilizing for their own rights, as well as constructing an imaginary, cultural production, lifestyles of their own, thus contributing from the grassroots to a counter-narration of what Italianness means today.
After 1989, the transformation of Italy as a destination country and crossroads for migration both from the South of the world and Eastern Europe, with the first wave of family reunifications, created the conditions for this new subject to make its appearance both in movies and TV series. For a long time what prevailed was the tendency to present the second generation as cut out figures vis-a-vis their reference social and cultural context, or the tendency to mix them together into an undifferentiated continuum with the first generation.
We had to wait until 2006 for this new subject to start taking on a more fully recognizable configuration. Until 2013, the main objective of the movies and series produced in Italy was the narration of exemplary stories, capable of providing a synthesis of real life experiences, problems of identity and the hunger for civil rights felt by the second generations. I am thinking of documentaries such as 18 ius soli by Fred Kudjo Kuwornu and Fratelli d’Italia by Claudio Giovannesi, as well as the feature film Good Morning Aman by Claudio Noce, in which a young Italian-Somali man finds a way to leave his adolescence behind forever when he develops an ambiguous friendship with an ex boxer. Other movies are dominated by a vision that leaves very little room for movement to second generation subjects, as they are relegated to subaltern positions, the grimness of their position rendered visually by the isolated and gray habitats where they dwell. These movies include Et in terra pax, ACAB-All Cops Are Bastards, Alì ha gli occhi azzurri, Razzabastarda, Se chiudo gli occhi non sono più qui, Alysia nel paese delle meraviglie, Magari le cose cambiano.
In other movies greater attention was paid to the potential inherent in the encounter between cultures and recognizing the value of diversity, though sometimes that might have meant loosing sight of the material coordinates within which citizenship is inscribed. Movies of this type include Balla con noi-Let’s dance, Giallo a Milano, Butta la luna”.
Other Italian directors, both male and female ones, re-elaborated, sometimes in lighter registers, topics such as ”the girl to be saved”, her self-fulfillment consisting in having the choice to emancipate themselves from a patriarchal culture, and include such movies as Last Minute Marocco, Questa notte è ancora nostra, Lezioni di cioccolato 2, Italy amore mio.
In the territory of cinéma du réel, some titles focus more effectively on the school as a laboratory for coexistence. These movies included Sei del mondo, Una scuola italiana, Sotto il Celio azzurro.
However, since 2014 both the cinema and television of the Belpaese have been showing the first signs of a different narration. It seems that directors are taking for granted that there is no longer a need to continue providing basic information about the life and experience of those sons and daughters of immigrants, because such details have already been digested by audiences. Thus directors feel the need to try and imagine an Italy that is up to speed, where the second generation can be approached with a gaze that is both more situated and individualized. The documentary Il futuro è troppo grande, by Giusy Buccheri and Michele Citoni compares two profiles of second generation youth that are very different as far as origin, temperament and degree of integration are concerned, and bravely uses participatory video. Other movies reflect on the presence of resistance negotiated within the body of the country itself, with conflicts expressed by the dominant community but sometimes also by the minority groups themselves, for example Roma, Sinti and ’camminanti’ on one side and Muslims on the other (Io rom romantica, but also two episodes from the series Non uccidere e Provaci ancora prof).
Films and series often made by second generation directors, but not only, (the directors of the short “Joy” and of the webseries “Welcome to Italy” are Italians), show the emergence of a specific problem experienced by the average Italian in facing the image of a collective self that is no longer limited to the ghost/fetish of a socially constructed whiteness as well as the equally tenacious idea of a sort of ‘race innocence’. The color line ends up impacting the mentality of the second generation itself, resulting in a self- image that has deficits, is uncertain and contradictory.
A third grouping of titles deals with the relationship between second generation subjects and the Italian collectivity, according to a trajectory sometimes prefiguring a path to differential inclusion. What comes to mind is a character like Cuono in La scuola più bella del mondo, Benny in La grande rabbia, Jamal in the third season of Una grande famiglia, Spadino and Isabelle in the first season of Suburra-La serie.
Elsewhere the focus is on the relationship between first and second generation, a transition that entails resolving tangled situations and traumas (Babylon sisters, The Harvest).
One last group of titles includes the figures of second generation, young men -actually mostly young women – immersed in an imaginary where tensions highlighted by differences appear to be gradually resolving. We are talking about male and female characters who are energetic and assertive but live in a post-racial comfort zone, at quite a distance from anything that may remind them of their origins, like Francesca, the black Bridget Jones of the series È arrivata la felicità and to a lesser degree Feven, the Italo-Eritrean violinist of Tutto può succedere.
Tezeta Abraham and Esther Elisha are perhaps the best-known, male and female faces of an ever more talented, new generation of second-generation actors. In the wake of the struggles in that direction initiated in the US, Great Britain and France, they too are willing to fight to prevent being relegated their whole lives to playing support roles, caricatures blemished by worn out stereotypes. Joining them is a host of new talent (not necessarily coming out of acting academies, like Tezeta Abraham herself and Lorena Cesarini) who are joining the world of the cinema and television after years of experience and training acting on the stage. These actors include talented actors such as Germano Gentile and Livio Beshir, not to neglect Miguel Gobbo Diaz, Federico Lima Roque, Alberto Malanchino, Astrid Meloni, and Marouane Zotti.
The extraordinary success garnered by Jonas Carpignano’s movie A Ciambra, earned the director a nomination to the Academy Awards representing Italy as well as a David di Donatello for best director. On one hand, it was a tribute to the courage and coherence of one of the few contemporary Italian auteurs capable of capturing the interest of international audiences. On the other hand, his success has led some to wonder whether he is only the tip of the iceberg, as the son of an Italian father and an Afrodescendant Barbadian expat to the US.
Surely Suranga D. Katugampala is part of today’s submerged legacy of Italian cinema and TV series. What is hidden behind the movie Per un figlio is the intuition of a gaze firmly planted in contemporary life but also one that is capable of building transnational networks, the pride of independent production as well as attention to crafting an artistic product that is clean and effective. He has shown the generous intention to weave a dialogue between the different generations, and between Italians and foreigners, as well as the courage to intercept the rise of violence as a tool of self-affirmation, without resorting to consolatory shortcuts.
Both Carpignano and Katugampala are not operating in a vacuum. Several talented young storytellers, both female and male, are chomping at the bit. If some like Haider Rashid, the author of the touching Sta per piovere, first full feature film made by a second generation director and Laura Halilovic have already passed their first test, several others have by now made some promising shorts. Among them are Hleb Papou (Il legionario) and Nour Gharbi (il sapore del sale) or the award winning directors of documentaries such as Elia Mouatamid (Talien), while others like Nadia Kibout (Le ali velate) and Amin Nour (Ambaradan) are repositioning themselves as performers/directors. Other filmakers have entered the festival and social communication scene showing great talent and initiative. This makes us hopeful that there will be a generational and transcultural turnover in our movies and TV series. As far citizenship reform, the game is anything but over.*
*For a more extensive treatment of these topics, please read my book La cittadinanza come luogo di lotta. Le seconde generazioni in Italia fra cinema e serialità (Aracne editrice, 2018).
Leonardo De Franceschi’s experience as a scholar and promoter of film culture has been largely dedicated to Africa and African Diasporas. After a first degree in film studies (his final thesis was about Visconti’s The Stranger), he continued with a PHd thesis (writing his dissertation on modes of representation of urban space in North African cinema) and then joined the faculty at the Roma 3 University as a tenured researcher. His research focus and classes are on African and Diasporic cinemas, as well as postcolonial and transnational theories.
His books include the following: La cittadinanza come luogo di lotta. Le seconde generazioni in Italia fra cinema e serialità (Aracne 2018); Lo schermo e lo spettro. Sguardi postcoloniali su Africa e afrodiscendenti (Mimesis 2017); Souleymane Cissé. Con gli occhi dell’eternità (Kaplan); Hudud. Un viaggio nel cinema maghrebino (Bulzoni, 2005).
Cover image: Collage by Basseck Mankabu