Spaghetti blackface. Pratiche performative al di là della linea del colore

Leonardo De Franceschi


In the Italian box office top list of the season 2014-15, two titles emerge, sharing the choice of blackface as the performing strategy of one or more characters, Il ricco, il povero e il maggiordomo (The Rich, the Pauper and the Butler, by Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo, and Giacomo Bertacca, 2014) and La scuola più bella del mondo (The Most Beautiful School in the World, by Luca Miniero, 2014). The good result at the box office of comedies like these, aiming at a broad, mainstream audience, may tell us something substantial on the image in which a consistent segment of the Italian society identifies with. Furthermore, it revives a spectre, that of the performative embodiment of the Other, more specifically of the Black-as-Other, that for a long time has haunted the acting experience and the image of Italian XXth Century, through plays, films, picture books, commercials.

In this article I try to sketch a history of blackface in Italian film, exploring the theoretical and transcultural/translational issues evoked by this tradition of performing rhetoric through a film studies approach oriented by questions of race, gender and class. If historically blackface re-emerges as white dominant groups consider at risk their privilege status and feel the urge to use stereotypes to reinforce it, it is even more threatening to experience this resurgence in Italy, a former minor colonial power, where migrant and postmigrant groups are still fighting to obtain a basic level of civil and social rights. 

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