To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Italian-American discussion and events, the Hofstra Cultural Center put together a three part lecture series to celebrate Italian culture on campus.
The second lecture of the series was a screening of the documentary “Blaxploitalia: 100 Years of Blackness in the Italian Cinema,” by writer, director and activist Fred Kuwornu. The film is a presentation that revolves around the lack of diversity in the Italian cinema industry.
“There have been blacks in Italian cinema for a century but in some ways they have been invisible, both on the screen and in our collective memory,” said Dr. Stanislao Pugliese, the event coordinator.
Pugliese, who is also a history professor at Hofstra, is the director of the Italian-American Experience Lecture Series. He has been the director for the past 20 years and was excited to introduce Kuwornu to Hofstra.
Kuwornu has been a lecturer and keynote speaker at many universities around the world, including Berkeley, Yale, University of California Los Angeles, Brown, Columbia, University of Toronto and Oxford.
Kuwornu is the founder of the Association of Diversity Italia, which promotes the importance of racial and ethnic diversity in Italy and Europe using film and other forms of media as tools in building a more inclusive society.
“I’m working on different projects which explore much more of the contemporary society and identity. So the role that diversity plays in creating strong identity in kids. The media and other institutions are responsible for providing us with a better future,” Kuwornu said. “So with my documentary I’d like to explore this kind of story.”
Having acted for a few years himself, Kuwornu is aware of the struggles actors face in searching for fitting roles.
Freshman Imani Cole, a French and Italian major, said “I didn’t know how prominent the issue of black Italians not getting the roles in films that they should have gotten was. I knew that there was a lot of stereotypes in films and television shows in America, but I didn’t know how prominent it was in other countries, like Italy… It’s also kind of sad that many of the Italian-born people that did have African descent weren’t really considered Italian.”
In many ways, Italy is not very different from the United States in terms of ill proportioned representation in the media, according to Kuwornu. While the west might be more progressive, we share the same issues as those faced in Italy. Disabled actors, women and the elderly are severely lacking in the film industry, both in Italy and the U.S.
“For me, it’s equivalent to seeing women in films,” said Jenna Atkinson, a freshman drama major. “Being able to see someone who looks like me and is me, is so inspiring. It makes you want to either do that or get inspired to go out and do something else like them. It’s so important that people of color and people with disabilities and LGBT people, they see people who look like them as well, who act like them and who are them. It does reflect our society, and I think right now especially that’s a huge problem.”