BY MIRCHAYE SAHLU AND OLIVE VASSELL
With his latest film Blaxploitalian Italian director, producer and activist Fred Kudjo Kuwornu is continuing his mission to change bias in his homeland the way he knows best – using the camera as his tool.
With two major documentaries under his belt, Kuwornu’s newest work tells the story of black Italian and African Diasporic actors and the struggles they have faced in practicing their craft.
“There are plenty of stereotypes in cinema. In Italy, if you are of African descent you'll end up playing a prostitute, the windshield washer, the drug dealer or the illegal immigrant. I, myself, personally suffered and faced the same problem. Before being a filmmaker in Italy, there was a time where I was an actor, playing stereotyped small roles,” Kuwornu said.
Born and raised in Italy to a Ghanaian father and Italian mother, in 2010 Kuwornu produced and directed the award-winning documentary Inside Buffalo, which documents the unknown story of the African-American 92nd Infantry who fought in Europe in World War II. Another film 18 IUS SOLI followed in 2012, this one focusing on the fight of the million plus children of immigrants who though born and raised in Italy, must apply for citizenship. Kuwornu later founded the non-profit organization Diversity Italia, which promotes the importance of racial and ethnic diversity in Europe, using film and other art forms.
Kuwornu says Blaxploitalian, which chronicles 100 years of blackness in Italian cinema, was inspired by a book about blacks in Italy.
“The book L’Africa in Italia follows the different waves of pioneers of African descent since 1914, which marks the year the first black actor came out," Kuwornu explained.
The documentary starts with silent and colonial cinema, moving to contemporary film. Kuwornu hopes it will help to expose and change stereotypes in Italian cinema. “I hope the film will open the mind of many executives and politics about the urgent situation to solve. Speaking abut diversity in media it's more than asking [for] more roles for blacks or an adequate representation of women, disabled, LGBT, senior citizens on screen and behind the screen. This debate it's to create change that can support the growth of our children, empower and support their identity and self-esteem of themselves. If they don't see themselves represented they will feel to be not completely a part of this society and this will be a limit for their life aspirations or professional goals.”
Blaxploitalian was a labor of love for Kuwornu and his crew who traveled between across three continents for years to interview actors, directors, and critics, to uncover the hidden history of Italian cinema. Kuwornu currently spends his time between his Brooklyn, New York base and Rome.
“It was really expensive because basically you need to do different kinds of interviews not only in Italy, but also in the UK, US and even Africa, and then we also have to buy a lot of classic movies and for this reason it’s been expensive. We also wanted to translate this documentary into various languages. I spent around [an] $80,000 budget,” he explained.
To help cover costs, Kuwornu launched a crowd funding campaign raising over $10,000. Kuwornu completed the film in mid-2016 and began screening in October. By the end of the year he had already shown it in Italy, the UK and all over the United States, including to some heavy industry hitters.
“We started to show the film in panels reserved for film industry people. For example we did a special screening attended by Cheryl Bone Isaacs, president of the Academy [Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences], and the actor Danny Glover.
And, 2017 will also be a busy one for Kuwornu who hopes to get a slot at the Rome Film Festival in October and schedule community screenings in Amsterdam, France, and London and for film professionals.
“In addition to the public, we are planning a global tour to involve executives, casting directors and television commissioners to change the way how they cast roles,” he said.
For information visit blaxpolitalian
Mirchaye Sahlu is a 2015 graduate of the University of the District of Columbia’s Mass Media Program.>