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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
A Look Inside 18 Jus Soli
Portland Thomas, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
October 2, 2014

On the evening of Monday September 29th, as part of the Italian Identities As Told Through Cinema film festival, La Pietra Dialogues NYU Florence in collaboration with Stanford University screened the film 18 Jus Soli: The Right to be Italian. The documentary was directed by producer, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and activist Fred Kuwornu. Fred Kuwornu has worked with Spike Lee on the film Discovering Buffalo (2008) and has produced and directed several works including, Inside Buffalo (2010) and Blaxploitalia (forthcoming). Kuwornu himself attended the screening and participated in a Q&A with college students, colleagues and local Florentines afterwards.

The film centers on the current citizenship law in Italy that denies Italian born children citizenship if they come from immigrant parents because they do not have Italian blood. These second-generation children must remain non-Italian citizens until the age of 18 when they then have the opportunity to go through the complicated application process to obtain citizenship, which is not guaranteed for many. Kuwornu captured the experience of living in Italy as a second generation child through 18 interviews with young adults whose parents originally came from South America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

The film had a very solid and effective structure which displayed careful thought and planning and the result was impactful. Through his interviews Kuwornu turned a statistic into a captivating story. Kuwornu first had a section of initial interviews with the young adults that covered simple topics such as what they liked to cook, what part of Italy they came from, what music they liked to listen to, etc. This seemed to have been done to give us characters to identify with. These individuals’ hopes and dreams were revealed to us through these interviews and they were not just hoping and dreaming but actively and aggressively pursuing their goals. Through these initial interviews Kuwornu made us love these spunky, ambitious, funny individuals before he revealed the reality of what they were actually going through, whether it be issues with obtaining citizenship or the very intimate issue of identity and how these individuals saw themselves. Kuwornu also used a significant amount of documented footage, both current and historic, of politicians who directly talked about the issue at hand as one that needed to be fixed and those, such as Martin Luther King Jr, who talked about the issue of moving into the future as one people which painted the issue of citizenship for second generation children as one that could be positively resolved. The tone that had been created from the use of the documented footage, for me at least, read as a subtle call to action - it was a tone that seemed to say that we can change this reality together.

I did not expect this film to impact me the way that it did when I first sat down to watch it. I knew that the topic of the film was an important one but I did not expect it to affect me so personally for two specific reasons. For one, I was strongly affected by how much I related to these kids, such as Valentino for instance. In the film Valentino, one of the young adults that was interviewed whose parents came from Nigera, recalls a time when someone told him that he spoke Italian very well as if he were not italian. I have had similar experiences where someone has told me that I spoke very well and ‘proper’ as if it was a compliment, even though we had grown up in the same town and went to the same school, because the color of my skin was different, this was seen as an accomplishment. I empathized with this aspect of their lives, how some of these kids were not viewed as part of this certain culture although they had lived there all of their lives, just as I have not really belonged to the majority white American culture although I have lived in it for most of my life.

Although I could profoundly relate to some of what these kids went through I also could not help but be painfully aware that I was not only American but an American citizen who would never have to face the types of struggles that the people I had grown attached to on the screen in front of me have and will continue to endure. The individuals that I had identified with moments before were now seemed distant as I sat there as an American in Italy watching a film about Italian citizenship. Yes being an African American female has given way to a fair amount of injustices but I have never not felt American. I have never been nor ever will be in a position where my American identity could be stripped away from me and as I sat there taking in the reality of these kids, Kuwornu effectively made me become strikingly aware of my own reality and my own privilege; and what struck me the most was that I was not the only one.

About midway through the film I looked to my right and sitting next to me was an old Italian woman. She was staring wide eyed at the screen, her hand feebly touching her chin and almost covering her mouth and she was crying. She made no effort to hide her tears and I could see that she was truly realizing, perhaps for the first time, what these children were actually going through. I would like to think in that moment that she, just as I had, had discovered her own privilege. Perhaps this was Kuwornu’s aim, to make those who had that privilege and the power to use that privilege aware of what they had and what others did not have. In my eyes and the evidence radiating from the eyes of the woman next to me, Kuwornu had broken down the barrier of ignorance and created awareness, two phenomena that need to occur in order for it to ever be possible to move forward.

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