“That is important, if you are doing research on [the topic of African cinema], you must look at my work, and if you have not then that means that you have not done your research properly…Not because of the joy of reading it, but to know what has been there, that it has been done and how it all started…that is why it is very relevant for today.”*
In the above quote Joy Nwosu refers to her book, Cinema e Africa Nera. Her cinematic experience, both artistic and academic, highlights the fact that an Italian afro-diasporic cinema culture was indeed present in the 1960s--her playing the pioneering role. As early as 1962, Joy Nwosu was among the first Nigerians to come to Italy to study. After receiving her diploma in music studies, she began a three-year program in Mass Communications in 1965, specializing in cinematography. For her final project she wrote her thesis Cinema e Africa Nera, on Africa and cinema. The first book to deal with the subject in any language, published in Italian in 1968, and reedited in 2014, also in Italian. The little-known book was rediscovered by Italian scholar of African cinema, Leonardo De Franceschi, who was instrumental in its reprinting in 2014 under the title Cinema e Africa, L’immagine dei neri nel cinema bianco e il primo cinema africano, as a critical re-edition, including extensive explication of text. The significance of this work, as Nwosu notes in the above citation from a video interview arranged by De Franceschi*, is that it was a seminal text and a record of the period as it relates to African cinema history. It is also important to note that its obscurity most certainly is based on the fact that it is an Italian-language text. That it is neither in French nor in English [and perhaps that she is a woman] doomed it to the dusty shelves of African cinema history, a point that must be considered in reading any review of literature and citation of texts. In addition, the film Il nero by Giovanni Vento, in which Joy Nwosu was of the leading actors, was restored in 2020. De Franceschi released the book, "Il nero" di Giovanni Vento in Italian on the film in 2021 as well as engaged in an extensive with renowned film critic Ludovico Cantisani, who wrote a preface to the original version of Cinema e Africa Nera in 1968 .
De Franceschi indeed understood the significance of Joy Nwosu's work. That his interest and research in African cinema was a prelude to his discovery of her work, reinforces the fact that the foundation of researching is to go beyond the surface--in this case to uncover a work written by an African woman in Italian in 1968. Moreover, she herself emphasizes the point that its significance first and foremost is that it was the first book that was written and published by an African from an African perspective regarding Africa and cinema. In an interview arranged by De Franceschi*, Joy Nwosu talks about the challenges as an anglophone speaker, of researching and writing in Italian, but at the same time, the rich research sources available to her of the few African filmmakers at the time.
Following in Joy Nwosu's footsteps, Sr. Dominica Dipio of Uganda resumed this Italian afro-diasporic cinema critique as a student at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where she studied from 1998 to 2003, obtaining a Licentiate and PhD in Media Studies. Her doctoral thesis was published as a book under the title: Gender Terrains in African Cinema in 2014. Hence, thirty years later Sr. Dipio had the benefit of the Gregorian University library and organizing bodies such as Centro Orientamento Educativo (a main sponsor of Ecrans d'Afrique/African Screens) and the African, Asia and Latin America Film Festival in Milan (FESCAAAL), to name a few of the venues in Italy, at which she was able to view and research most of the films analyzed in her thesis.
During the time of Sr. Diopio's studies in Italy, Italian scholar Maria Coletti also focused her research on representations of African women, Di diaspro e di corallo. L'immagine della donna nel cinema dell'Africa nera francofona (Of Jasper and Coral: Images of Women in Black African Cinema), is the published edition of her PhD research at Roma Tre University released in 2001. I asked her about the reception of her work in Italy: ”I really don’t know, I cannot say there has been a real reception. There are very few academic works on African cinema and women studies, and even fewer networks of researchers on that theme as far as I know. I am no longer in the academy, it is very difficult in Italy, so I am a little out... "I walk alone". I do know that my work has been used in some courses on Third Cinema Films and Theories at the University of Rome-La Sapienza with Professor Giulia Fanara and in some courses on Postcolonial Film Studies at the University Roma Tre with my husband [Leonardo De Franceschi] who is professor there, and who also directs the Panafricana Film Festival” . [Note: the Panafricana festival in presently inactive].
As noted above Centro Orientamento Educativo (COE) was a main sponsor of the Ecrans d'Afrique/African Screens). Founded in 1959 the association "works for the development of a culture and dialogue and solidarity." COE also initiated (the African, Asian and Latin American Film Festival (FESCAAAL) in order to promote the cinema of countries in development, to the Italian public. Moreover COE organizes film weeks in Italian cities in order to showcase African cinema to its public as a means of awareness building and North/South cultural exchange.
Another cinema-focused initiative, Cinemafrodiscendente.com, though no longer active, was an archival project for filmmakers of African descent in Italian cinema, created as a spin-off research of a book called L’Africa in Italia: Per una controstoria postcoloniale del cinema italiano (For a Postcolonial Counterhistory of Italian Cinema). Its objective is as follows: Cinemafrodiscendente was created to record the contribution that hundreds of, often unrecognized, figures of the Afrodescendant panorama gave to the Italian film industry since the silent era. The blog follows a cultural policy of affirmative action, aimed to empower the agency of dozens of African and Afrodescendant filmmakers, and is driven by the belief that a more efficient promotion of those figures may represent an added value for Italian film and creative industries.
Specifically women-focused initiatives include the sixth edition of the Bologna Lesbian Film Festival, Some Prefer Cake held in 2012, which featured visual activist Zanele Muholi as the guest of honor with an exhibition and audiovisual project focusing on the life of lesbians in South Africa. In addition, with a focus on theory, a film screening about the late African-American poet, activist and writer Audre Lorde was presented. In 2021, the 30th edition of FESCAAAL was devoted to women. Seven filmmakers from seven countries discussed their personal experience focusing on women's agency, their aesthetic and narrative choices and the emergence of a new women's imaginary from a contemporary, postcolonial and globalized perspective. In 2023, in collaboration with Centro Di Documentazione Flavia Madaschi the festival presented the lesbian cult film Watermelon Woman, by American-Liberian, Cheryl Dunye.
Rim Temimi adds to this expanding Diaspora of Italy. She is enriched by three cultures, that of Tunisia, where she was born, the Algerian ancestry of her father, and Sicily from her mother's family. In her documentary Manco Moro, she embarks on a rediscovery of her Sicilian family.
Italy as a Diasporic site of inquiry is becoming increasingly visible as afro-descendants take their place in Italian society as scholars and researchers, such as the panel, Corpi colonizzati: riflessioni di donne nere della diaspora (Colonized Bodies: Reflections of Black Women of the Diaspora) held at the Libreria Griot in Rome in February 2023. During the discussion, Angelica Pesarini, Fartun Mohamed Gacal and Iman Mohamed reflect on what it means to study Italian colonialism from the opposite perspective, and on the embedded stories they bring with them as black women scholars. Similarly, Italio-Camerounian Sabrina Onana gives voice to the experiences of young Afro-Italians in the 2-part documentary Crossing the Color Line (2021).
*See the 2015 video interview with Joy Nwosu in English arranged by Leonardo de Franceschi: Incontro con Joy Nwosu, autrice del libro "Cinema e Africa": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOPbWlhFnmc
Report by Beti Ellerson
Links to related articles on the African Women in Cinema Blog
Perspectives from Italy:
Cheryl Dunye: Watermelon Woman - Some Prefer Cake - Bologna Lesbian Film Festival 2023
Sabrina Onana Crossing the color line - Crossing the color line, healing from the past
Corpi colonizzati: riflessioni di donne nere della diaspora Colonized Bodies: Reflections of Black Women of the Diaspora
FESCAAAL - Festival del cinema africano, d'Asia e America latina
Joy Nwosu, author of "Cinema e Africa nera", published in Italy in 1968 and reedited in 2014 https://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2017/09/joy-nwosu-author-of-cinema-e-africa.html
María Coletti talks about her research on the representation of women in African cinema
Zanele Muholi (Women prefer cake festival)
Women in Ecrans d’Afrique/African Screen