Filmmaker Fred Kuwornu addresses impacts of racial justice, colonialism
Genevieve Coleman | Wednesday, February 17, 2021
On Tuesday evening, Saint Mary’s welcomed film director Fred Kuwornu, who gave a presentation entitled “Black Lives Matter Italy and the Legacy of Italian Colonialism.” The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures and the Office of Inclusion and Equity.
Associate professor of Italian, Umberto Taccheri, began the presentation by introducing Kuwornu to the virtual audience.
“So Fred describes himself on his CV as a filmmaker, a producer, an activist, a scholar and an educator,” he said. “ Fred produces political documentaries. [His film “Inside Buffalo”] was the winner of the Best Documentary at the Black International Cinema in Berlin. … On one hand, Fred does these incredible documentaries; on the other hand, he’s also another good ambassador for the rights of the African-Italian community.”
Kuwornu opened his presentation by speaking about how his talk is situated in an important moment in history.
“I’m very excited to have this conversation because we are in the middle of Black History Month in the United States, and we are also in the middle of an interesting timing in Italy to talk about the connection between colonialism and also the Black Lives Matter movement in Italy,” he said.
Kuwornu showed a trailer of a Vice News documentary to highlight the present Italian racial justice movement. He then addressed the words of an Italian politician who claims that Black people were not supposed to be in the country by speaking about his heritage as an Afro-Italian man.
“Actually, I’m a source of an African immigrant — my dad who came in 1965 to study medicine in Italy and is a surgeon since 1976, so he worked there for more than 50 years as a doctor,” he said.
Continuing to discuss his upbringing, Kuwornu said he was often the only person of color in certain spaces, which inspired him to produce films that are more representative of the African community and its history.
“I felt [like] the only one in the room in many occasions: In elementary school, middle school, high school, at university, when I had my first job in radio and as a TV producer,” he said. “We want to share not only contemporary stories of the average audience, but we want to share also historical stories about African descent.”
Reflecting on Black Italians in history that were influential to Italy, such as St. Josephine Bakhita and Domenico Mondelli, Kurworu played a clip highlighting their accomplishments and their impact on the country.
After this montage, Kuwornu discussed the impact of racist propaganda being espoused among the Italian government as it invaded Northern and Eastern Africa and society as a whole.
“This was a tremendous time in which of course a racial idea of the society has been propagated into everything, so in advertisement, into the film, into the radio show and into the schoolbook,” Kuwornu said. “In particular, the idea of the Black woman was sexualized. This was also a feeling of the time because the same thing happened in the United Kingdom or in France.”
Kuwornu also spoke about the effects of colonialism are still seen today. He gave the example of an Italian pasta company that named three new pasta shapes after three Italian colonies in December of last year.
To conclude his presentation, Kuwornu took questions from the audience. He responded to a question about when he realized his Blackness when he was a child. One instance was when a woman approached him and his mother and assumed that he was adopted, which caused him intense concern.
“I was really shocked by this word [adopted] because I never really knew what it meant, so I asked my mom and then I started to panic because I started thinking that I really was adopted,” he said.
Kuwornu also spoke about seeking out diversity after growing up in a predominantly white town and also about creating it for others.
“I had my goals and my dreams, but I’m surely limited by the fact that I didn’t know all the world and the context of the beauties of diversity, so what I’m trying to do right now with a lot of people in Italy is to create institutional diversity to the school into the system into the institution, because the society is just diverse,” he said.
When answering a question about the new administration changing rules about giving Italian citizenship to immigrants, Kuwornu was hopeful changes would occur after the next election.
“Maybe with the new election and a new parliament, they will put again on agenda the idea to vote in your city, but we are talking about it, not before 2023 or 2024,” he said.
Kuwornu referred back to his childhood when asked about his sister and their search to find their roots.
“It was just difficult to explore our roots with the fact that we didn’t have relatives in Italy and traveling to Ghana in West Africa, the culture my dad was from, was very expensive at the time,” he said. “… This opportunity unfortunately was not allowed to me to see so basically, also my sister grew up with an experience so that was really more homogeneous to the white side that we had.”
In addition, Kurwornu also talked about the similarities between global approaches to immigration.
“Basically, it’s similar to many other people, young people in many countries in which they have basically this problem, they are born in many countries, or they are recognized, or they raised in this country since they were kids, but they are not recognized as citizens,” he said. “…So of course, it’s a global issue and I think that needed to be addressed.”