The Italian Colonial Cinema

I loved this article. For some reason, it really painted a great picture and I could imagine all the African people and the Italians coming together to watch these movies that the fascist regime would create to promote certain ideals. I have always liked looking at film as a way to convey certain concepts. I think that some people today can lose sight of how influential films can be and only see them for their pure entertainment value. What was scary about this article was the idea that a government could use film to make people think a certain way. In a way, it was a smart propaganda trick to use because film can make you feel and think a certain way and in a different way than just listening to someone speak could.

My favorite part of this entire article was when Ben-Ghiat mentioned the Ethiopians stifling their laughter at a film because of the way the film was portraying the Africans. I loved the idea of this being a form of rebellion to the colonizers because those they were colonizing were laughing at something that they thought was good. The Ethiopians were laughing at their colonizers rather than with them and I thought that this was a great point to mention in the article.

Films for the Colonized

by Laura Colleluori

Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s article on Italian Colonial Film was fascinating, because instead of focusing primarily on the content of any particular colonial films, she instead focused on the reception of these films in the colonies themselves. Strangely, I had really only been thinking of these films as colonial propaganda geared towards Italian citizens – I had never really considered that the colonized Africans were watching them as well. I will be presenting on this article in class tomorrow, so I don’t want to give to say too much in this post, but I think that the issues the Italians dealt with in communicating their films’ messages to the peoples they were colonizing were really fascinating. In particular, I thought it was very clever the way they tried to impress the native peoples with just the movie equipment itself, hoping that the modernity and technological advancement would impress and subdue them.

My Paper: The Context

I am writing my paper as a comparison of Lt. John Dunbar, Kevin Costner’s character in Dances With Wolves (1990) and Carlo Piaggia. Sounds strange, but bear with me. Lots of similarities. Here is the trailer just so you all, and Professor Schiavulli can get some context of the movie:

Dances with Wolves Trailer

Here is the link to the IMDB summary, but if you haven’t seen this movie it’s and absolutely classic and is a must-see:



Boggio’s Writing

This article was fantastic. I loved the ideas brought up hear, mainly how in one article she managed to draw parallels in film analysis, social psychology and their relationship to fascism in Italy. I thought that was interesting, and well written. One idea that I found very interesting was the usage of the movie as a tool for propaganda.When Boggio quotes Karen Pinkus, “what would most appeal to colonizers is not the quality of blackness but the aestheticization of blackness because it helped normalize white domination (37)” (284-285). I thought it was horribly genius that the director would dress lighter-skinned Libyans in white so that on screen they would show up as “more-black” and therefore “more-African.” This then reminded me of the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960 (its a big leap, but I promise that it will come full circle). During those debates, Richard Nixon wore a lighter colored suit whereas John F. Kennedy wore a much darker navy blue suit. After the debate, polls were taken to compare who listeners on the radio and viewers on television thought. In my opinion, Nixon had a more substantial message and was overall the more impressive debater. The people who listened to the debate on radios agreed with me, while the viewers at home thought that Kennedy won the debate. This ties back in to the propaganda in the film because people believe what they see, not what they hear. Some part of it is the message you deliver, but how you look when you deliver it seems to be the most important thing. This then relates to Le Bon’s idea of a psychological crowd, that a group of people can all be swayed in the same direction and rallied behind a single entity, idea or person. The person’s image is what matters, the amount of prestige that they exhibit (283). This part was most striking to me because it made me consider my own thoughts about voting for certain elected officials. I remember candidates and often times will feel more comfortable with a candidate based on how they look, how they present themselves, and how much confidence or “prestige” they exude.

FINALLY, the pyschoanalysis of Mario Ludovicio and his, “relaxation of the boundaries between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ space is the result of Mario’s detachment from the status quo and cultural expectations…” (292) reminded me very much of the protagonist in Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.”In the pages of “The Stranger,” Mersault is at his mother’s funeral and does not grieve her death. He simply drinks coffee and smokes while standing near the coffin, similar to Mario’s experience after his time in the desert. Finally, the emotional turning point for Mario is when he almost strangles his lover, again similar to Mersault’s cathartic moment when he shoots the arab becausthe external influences, for instance the sunlight, became too much for him.



Black Shirts and Black Skins

While reading this article, I appreciated the use of film as a way to analyze colonialism at the time. By analyzing Lo squadrone bianco, the author found many ways to connect the film and to show what was going on at the time.

One of my favorite topics discussed was the idea of the “crowd mentality.” This was such a large part of fascism and it was wonderful to see how the author connected the concept of the sand in Libya to the crowds that fascists hated because they were “formless, purposeless, and consequently uncontrollable.” (p.280). The last part about not being able to control the crowd really stood out to me. It is essential to understanding fascism to understand the fact that they wanted all of the control and were terrified of losing it, which probably was one of the reasons why there were such strong propaganda efforts, and the metaphor between their control and the sand in the desert which no one can control was a wonderful idea and piece of imagery.

The other idea that I liked reading about was how the film used the ascaro as a way to depict Italy’s “colonial authority and its civilizing capacity.” (p. 286). The use of this image helped express what the Italian leaders wanted to show: that the Italians could “elevate uncivilized people,” a topic we have discussed before in class, but also to show that their expansion was justified.

Overall, I thought that this article provided a different and more visual way of learning about colonialism during the time period and I really enjoyed it.

Here is one of the images that came up when I searched for a picture of an ascaro soldier. I am not entirely sure if this is an accurate depiction or not but here is the image anyways.

A Threat and a Promise

When reading Cecilia Boggio’s essay Black Shirts/Black Skins, I was initially very intrigued by this passage, in which she describes the depiction of indigenous African populations and the vast desert in Augusto Genina’s 1936 film  Lo squadrone bianco:

“In the film, indigenous crowds and the desert space appear in two aspects: as threat and as promise, as enormous dangers to be controlled and as vast resources to be harnessed” (Boggio, 280).

From everything that we have read so far in this seminar, I think that this quote really perfectly captures the Italian attitude towards the people and places that they were colonizing. Italy had a desire to demonstrate its might, to conquer foreign lands to be taken seriously as a major European power, and to increase its supply of resources. However, there was also a great fear of what was unknown, and I think this article did an excellent job, through its analysis of Lo squadrone bianco, of highlighting that. Both the people and the land itself represented something potentially wild, uncontrollable, illogical, and ultimately frightening, leading to the colonizer’s “ambivalent perception of both the crowd and space” (Boggio, 281).

I was unable to find a clip of the film to watch, but I did find a clip of another film, Bengasi, also directed by Genina in 1942, which is also considered to be fundamental to Italian colonial filmography:

Mise-en-Scène Black Shirts/Black Skins

I found this particular chapter to be very interesting. I have studied film in the past and I really enjoyed the way in which Cecilia Boggio breaks up different aspects of the film and describes the ways in which they relate to or represent the fascist agenda. In the first paragraph of the section entitled “Colonial and Personal Spatial Geograhpies” Boggio describes the first scene of the film Lo squadrone bianco in which Mario is driving a car, the camera focusing on him with a close up. “He seems entrapped not only by the rigorous framing of the camera but also by the frame created by the windshield of his car. Entrapped by whom or by what?” (287)

This is the aspect of filmmaking that I find to be the most interesting. Every aspect of every shot of a film is meant to portray a certain image or message. Each prop is intentionally placed where it lies and the lights are set up in such a way that supports the feeling the scene is meant to portray. It is a means of foreshadowing aspects of the plot that might occur later, as well as expressing the inner thoughts and struggles of the characters. This is something that is done in all films today. I find it very interesting that even in the early days of film these techniques were being used. In this case, the mise-en-scène of the scenes and aspects of the plot were meant to promote the fascist agenda, as a means of promoting certain propagandas instead of for the purpose of the art of filmmaking.


What I found most interesting in Black Shirts/Black Skins was Cecilia Boggio’s statement  that Italian Colonialists has to use a sense of prestige to gain power over the Libyan Natives. Since the Libyan’s personal appearance was not so radically different from the Italian’s the simple outward-appearance-means-inner-supremacy argument was not enough to gain supremacy over the Libyans. Boggio defines prestige as “the display of a high degree of self-confidence” (28) which the Italians assumed and demonstrated in order to persuade the Libyan’s of their dominance instead of defeating it out of them.

This prestige was displayed in a way such that it did not appear as though the Italians were simply asserting dominance over the Libyans, but so that the Italians were “helping the constructiuon of an optimistic colonialist vision” (285). The natives were enticed to “mimic” the prestigious Italians and were therefore much more easier to control as a group. Even the Italian’s actions are seen as supreme and something for the Libyans to strive toward–during battles Italians are seen as “courageously helping the wounded and firing on the rebels” (291), where Libyans blend into the background of their sandy homeland. What is most striking about this scene is that during it’s occurrence both the Italians and the Libyans are blinded and invisible behind the sand, yet the Italians are still portrayed as having more courageous and honorable actions, even when nothing can be seen.



The concept of crowds and space as interconnected makes me think of fascist architecture in Italy.  The “psychological “ crowd is revolutionary and scary because it leads to anarchy.  The buildings built during fascism conveyed a sense of awe and intimidation through their size, and were used as propaganda to display strength, pride, and power. The crowds were “poured into a system of dams” (Klaus Theweleit), to control the crowds. Buildings, piazzas were used for public demonstrations. The “Casa del Fascio” (the local headquarters of the Fascist Party) were built all over Italy.  Mussolini transformed the via dei Fori Imperiale by physically connecting the ruins of the Colosseum with the administrative center of Fascist Rome—Piazza Venezia. It was designed as a monumental avenue for ceremonial and military parades to channel the crowds and thereby control them.

Boggio looks at Lieutenant Ludovici as “a builder of dams, a constructor of space” but “it is not only a geographical space, it is also a mental and corporeal space” (p. 282), a muchmore difficult endeavor in my opinion.

links showing fascist architecture:…