On Wednesday evening, the Italian Studies program welcomed Fred Kudjo Kuwornu, an Italian filmmaker, producer, educator and activist, to discuss the role of digital media in the representation of Afro-Italians. Kuwornu, who gave his virtual lecture from Rome, last visited Bowdoin in April 2018. Since then, he has started the digital multimedia project “Blaq•It: ‘The Black Italians Timeline.’”
As an activist and educator, Kuwornu hopes to create digital content that amplifies the voices of Afro-Italian leaders in media. He recalled the lack of diversity and representation in Italy when he was growing up.
“I remember that I wanted to look like my best friend, who was blond, and so I often asked my mom how to become blond,” Kuwornu said during his lecture. “It was really sad that we didn’t have an institution that wanted to promote the value of diversity in Italy.”
Kuwornu’s talk featured Afro-Italian activists and influencers from “Generation Balotelli”—a group of second-generation Italians who grew up in the 1990s-2000s. Over the last ten years, Generation Balotelli has created digital content in response to the lack of diversity in Italian media.
Kuwornu emphasized that social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have allowed for more representation for Afro-Italians.
“I was born in a time when we didn’t have social media, and it was very difficult to find a way to represent ourselves,” Kuwornu said. “[The Italian influencers] were able to use social media as an alternative [to mainstream media] in order to define more of themselves and to connect with their identities.”
Through multimedia engagement, “Generation Balotelli” hopes to build community for Italians with marginalized identities.
“By opening websites, blogs and Facebook pages where they were able to connect themselves, they were able to create a sense of belonging and identity,” Kuwornu said. “For this reason, they were really able to find a lot of great ways to tell much more about this community.”
One of the primary challenges that second-generation Afro-Italians face is obtaining citizenship, which, in turn, affects representation in the country.
“Even if you are born in Italy by immigrant parents, it’s not automatic that you’re an Italian citizen,” Kuwornu said. “There are a lot of cases in which you need to wait 18 years for legal citizenship because your parents are not Italian citizens and are not naturalized.”
During his lecture, Kuwornu also recalled how he met Afro-Italian author Antonio Dikele Distefano. Distefano, who first found success by advertising his first book on Facebook, met Kuwornu online, and the two formed a partnership to promote Distefano’s self-published novel.
Distefano’s work went on to serve as inspiration for the Netflix series “Zero,” which was released worldwide last month. Kuwornu shared his excitement about the show, which is the first Italian television series about Afro-Italians.
“This is a great representation of Italy because Netflix is mainstream but at the same time is an extremely similar platform [to newer digital media], so it doesn’t represent classic television,” Kuwornu said. “The reception of [“Zero”], in which all the main characters for the first time in an Italian show are Black, was huge, especially for the young generation.”
As Afro-Italian representation continues to grow online, Kuwornu looks forward to the future of digital media as a tool for future progress and diversity in Italy.
“Digital media plays a major role in helping us not only to socialize and have connections with people, but also to represent minorities and social groups,” Kuwornu said. “This is a huge game-changer in the representation of society.”