Jessica L. Harris – Across the Atlantic: African American Female Entertainers in 1960s and 1970s Italy
In celebration of Black History Month, Jessica L. Harris (2024 Fellow) will deliver a lecture/installation of her current research project, Black America and Italy: African American Women in Post-Fascist Italian Culture, which examines the positionality of African American female entertainers in Italian cultural products in the second half of the twentieth century.
Through a selection of Italian films and television clips featuring actor, singer and dancer Lola Falana and model and actor Donyale Luna, as well as readings from her research, Harris will explore the place of these two women in a post-Fascist and postcolonial Italy. Despite its non-discriminatory intentions articulated in the 1948 constitution, Italy was noted for its “colonial unconscious” (2012) according to Sandra Ponzanesi. This mental state allowed for the racist discourse and discriminatory practices from the colonial endeavors during the Liberal and Fascist eras to persist in the new Republic thereby affecting Falana’s and Luna’s representation in Italian media. However, the ongoing Cold War and strong attraction of American popular culture in Italy granted them a certain cultural capital, allowing the women to be depicted in a rather progressive way in comparison to their female non-American Afrodescendant counterparts. The presence of Falana and Luna helped to shape notions of Blackness in Italy in which African and Afro-Italian Blackness came to be seen in a different way than American Blackness, with the latter being more acceptable to the Italian public than the former. Furthermore, this understanding influenced how Italianness and belonging came to be connected to or not connected to people of African descent in the peninsula. Overall, Falana and Luna occupied a unique position in Italian culture and society in the late 60s and early 70s.
Jessica L. Harris, recipient of the 2024 Rome Prize Fellow in Modern Italian Studies, is assistant professor in the Department of History at St. John’s University. Her current project explores the place of female Blackness in post-Fascist Italy through the examination of the positionality of African American female entertainers in Italian cultural products in the second half of the twentieth century. Her publications include Italian Women’s Experiences with American Consumer Culture, 1945–1975: The Italian Mrs. Consumer (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) and articles in Annali d’Italianistica, Modern Italy, and Imago. Studi di cinema e media.
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