Italian Research Seminar: Jessica L. Harris (St. John's University)


Location: Rare Books and Special Collections 102 Hesburgh Library

The Fall lectures are being planned in a hybrid online and in-person format. Please register here.

The Center for Italian Studies is pleased to host a lecture by Professor Jessica Harris of St. John's University, titled:

'Permettereste a vostro figlio di sposare Lola?': Latent Fascism, American Culture, and Blackness in Postwar Italy

Lola Colt

The end of the Second World War marked a new beginning for Italy as the country sought to transition from Fascism to a modern, industrialized Republic, distancing itself from the racialized and xenophobic discourses of its totalitarian past. An important aspect of this desired transformation was the notion of race, particularly how Italians understood Blackness in their country and its relation to Italian national identity. Contributing to Italians’ understanding was the notable presence of African American men and women in Italian cultural productions—film, television, and fashion—in the decades following the war. This lecture examines the Italian film and television career of African American singer, dancer, and actress Lola Falana, analyzing the intersection of race, gender, and American cultural capital in a country noted for its “colonial unconscious.” This mental state allowed for the racist discourse and discriminatory practices from the Fascist era to persist in the new Republic. However, the ongoing Cold War and strong attraction of American popular culture in Italy granted Falana a certain cultural capital, allowing her to be depicted in a rather progressive way in comparison to her female African counterparts. But, she still did not escape the denigrating racialized stereotypes and rhetoric of Italian colonialism. Drawing on Italian visual media and African American and Italian print archival material, the lecture illustrates how Falana represents American cultural imperialism yet latent Fascist colonial racist rhetoric.

Jessica L. Harris is a scholar of African-American History, 20th century U.S. and the World, Black Europe, Women’s History, and Modern Italy, with a particular interest in gender and race, their intersection with material culture, and the subsequent effect on group identities. Her current book project is a transnational cultural history on race and gender relations in Italy and the United States. Placing women at the center of analysis, the book employs the methodological approaches of critical race studies, cultural studies, gender studies, and post-colonial studies to examine the presence of African American women in 20th century Italian television, film, music, and fashion.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Department of Africana Studies, the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, and by the Department of History at Notre Dame.