March 26, 2018
Filmmaker Fred Kudjo Kuwornu

The UCF Modern Languages and Literature Department will host the 9th Annual Neil R. Euliano Professorship Lecture on March 29, 2018. Continuing with its customary focus on Italian culture, this year’s lecture is by Italian-Ghanian activist and filmmaker Fred Kudjo Kuwornu, who will present his newest documentary BlaxploItalian: 100 Years of Blackness in Italian Cinema. The film screening, discussion with Kuwornu, and reception will take place in the Morgridge International Reading Center’s Global Communication Room at 4:30 P.M. The film will be in Italian with English subtitles.

BlaxploItalian explores the lives of Black actors in the Italian film industry, focusing on the prejudices that they face, their hard-won accomplishments, and their hopes for a more inclusive future. Modern-day interviews and archival footage in the film of Afro-Italian, African American, and Afro-descendent actors demonstrate the ongoing struggle to bring more diversity into international cinema, while also attesting to Italy’s multiculturalism.

Kuwornu connects the discrimination past Black Italian actors encountered, as well as their contributions, to the similar experiences of Black Italian actors today.

“[If] you find it difficult to find noteworthy Black characters in American cinema, not just tokens for a feel-good diversity quotient, it is ten times worse in Italy and throughout Europe,” says the BlaxploItalian documentary website.

The film’s title is a play on the word “blaxploitation,” a coined term for the exploitation of Black people and a subgenre of film that emerged in the 1970s. These movies were the first to feature primarily Black cast members in lead roles; however, they still suffered from the conventional tropes surrounding Black characters.

The corresponding lack of meaningful representation for Black people in film still persists, as evidenced by Kuwornu’s own history. Kuwornu struggled to find work as an Italian actor in the past, usually only typecast as stereotypical Black male roles such as “the immigrant.” This experience and Leonardo De Franceschi’s book “L’Africa in Italia” were inspirations for Kuwornu’s film.

Through his documentary, Kuwornu hopes to encourage the film industry to adopt more inclusive practices in all areas of the movie-making process, from hiring Black actors to play three-dimensional characters to giving filmmakers of different ethnicities the chance to be heard.

Paolo Giordano, the Neil R. Euliano Distinguished Professor of Italian and Italian American Studies, watched BlaxploItalian at the 2017 Italy in Transit Symposium and was moved.

“Kuwornu’s film is a touching story about the struggle of a disenfranchised group to find worthy and respected positions, which is something I believe we all face at some point or another,” said Dr. Giordano. “The search for acceptance is part of the human condition. BlaxploItalian helps us understand that, and therefore helps us understand each other.”

Giordano, who emigrated from Italy to the U.S. when he was nine years old, also noted how the film discusses the prejudices that immigrants face.

In addition to BlaxploItalian, Kuwornu has created two award-winning documentaries: “Inside Buffalo,” a look into the history of the segregated African American 92nd Infantry Division that fought in World War II, and “18 Ius Soli,” which gets its name from the Italian law barring immigrants and their children from receiving full citizenship and tells the stories of those affected. He also founded Diversity Italia, a non-profit organization that highlights racial and ethnic diversity in Europe through film and art.

For Kuwornu, diversity is a conversation that should go beyond just race and acknowledge gender, sexual orientation, age, and more.

The 9th Annual Euliano Lecture Series is free and open to the public. No registration is required. More event information here.