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#14 – When Two Clues Make an Evidence

Posted on Mar 15, 2016 in The Wall | 0 comments

Elisha Esther e altri in Tutto può succedere

#14 – When Two Clues Make an Evidence

All bets are off, the first season of RAI TV series Tutto può succedere (Anything May Happen), out in December 27, 2015, has closed on Sunday, March 13, 2016, after 13 evenings and 26 episodes, and the entire series is available in free streaming on RAI website. We already dedicated to this production a first post on December, as this series, in addition to being an Italian adaptation of NBC successful Parenthood, aired for six seasons from 2010 on, after È arrivata la felicità (That’s Happiness), represents another step forward for a change in diversity politics as for RAI series. Tutto può succedere moves the set from Berkeley, California to Rome and its suburbs and instead of Braverman family we have Ferraros, a large family united around the couple formed by the patriarch Ettore (Giorgio Colangeli) and his wife Emma (Licia Maglietta), always on the verge of splitting.

The clan is composed of four children (two sons and two daughters) very different as for character and habitudes: Alessandro (Pietro Sermonti) is the trustworthy guy, on whom all the others rely on, married with Cristina (Camilla Filippi), an architect who decided to leave her work to dedicate to the family, and they have a 16 years old daughter, Federica (Benedetta Porcaroli) and a younger boy, Max (Roberto Nocchi), with Asperger syndrome. Sara (Maya Sansa), the older sister, is separated from Elia (Maurizio Lastrico) and decided to move back from Genova to reunite to her family and start back a new life, with her sons Ambra (Matilda De Angelis), in her 18 years old and younger Denis (Tobia De Angelis). Giulia (Ana Caterina Morariu) is a brilliant successful lawyer, with a husband, Luca (Fabio Ghidoni), a former bank consultant, currently unemployed, and a very bright little girl, Matilde (Giulia De Felici). Finally we have Carlo (Alessandro Tiberi), the Peter Pan guy living and working in a boat on the Tiber, who discovers all of a suddenly to be father of a 5 years old boy called Robel (Sean Ghedion Nolasco), born of a brief relation with violin player Feven Neghisi (Esther Elisha), of Eritrean ancestry.

Already since early February we know that Tutto può succedere as È arrivata la felicità has been reconfirmed for a second season: on February 3, RAI Board of Directors has decided so, even if the audience was not particularly consistent especially for TPS: in the first period, the TV series was constantly beaten by the Spanish soap opera Il segreto (aka Old Bridge Secret, in Spanish El secreto de Puente Viejo), aired on Canale 5 in prime time, but once this was over the audience stabilized around four million viewers and an audience of over 16 per cent, the whole thing at the expense of Tutti insieme all’improvviso, the Mediaset TV series also starring Félicité Mbezele which resulted in a tremendous flop, with an audience under 10 per cent, and the last episodes put together in order to anticipate the ending. Cattleya’s producers and the authors of the adaptation (Filippo Gravino, Guido Iuculano, Michele Pellegrini) will have to take into account the weak points emerged in this first season, even if some of them are part of the main concept so appear not to easy to deal with. First, the six seasons of the Parenthood were already aired (by Mediaset, the main private competitor of RAI) from 2010 to 2015, and it’s one of the very first experiments of Italian remakes from a US TV series, so it was not an easy task for the casting directors to choose the right faces and for the authors to get their hands on a format that had already conquered an audience on its own.

To be honest, I’m not in the condition to propose any kind of comparison, as being not exactly a great fan of TV series, I limited myself to watch a couple of episodes and take a look at some articles to have an idea of the original. In 2012, Kartina Richardson on Salon and Britni Danielle on Clutch commented upon the postracial ideology of this and other current TV series (Scandal, 666 Park Ave, The Good Wife), promoting the emergence of attractive light skinned female black characters dating regularly with white characters, with reference to Jasmine, played by Joy Bryant. In Italy the authors maintained a connotation of ethnic diversity for the fiancé of the quirky guy in the family (there Crosby/Dax Shepard, here Carlo/Alessandro Tiberi), entrusting the role to Italian Esther Elisha, of Italian-Beninese ancestry, with a considerable background in arthouse film, theater and TV, still facing here her very first participation in the main cast of a TV series. In films Elisha was often used in roles having a marked sexual connotation, even if she was very brave to counterpoint any risk of stereotype, playing on irony and details. Here she had a completely different task, confronting with the character of a single mother, who decides to raise alone her child, hiding to her family the fact that the father is not aware of his existence, and thanks to her talent and tenacity manages to realize herself also professionally as a violin player.

The character has an moderate development curve in the economy of the first season, as it remains basically stuck to the main role of mother-of-the-male-character’s-child, and very rarely we saw her living of an autonomous life, outside Ferraro family, and we are even driven to believe that even Carlo’s proposal of marrying her was mostly determined by his happy and unexpected access to parenthood. That said, even here, Elisha manages to manufacture her role with an admirable subtlety, in a contrast with Carlo’s childish uncertainties for his new responsibility, and enriching her performance with very personal motivations – her determination to emerge as an actress, with an academic formation, despite the scarcity of role for black performers in Italian show business – compose a highly nuanced portrait of a black Italian, second generation young woman, truly determined to realize herself professionally (but not at the point of neglecting his son), very responsible as a mother, relatively manipulative in her relationships with her family – composed of a mother, Genet (Félicité Mbezele) and a brother, Senai (Federico Lima Roque) – really in love with Carlo but firm enough to control occasionally his fits of temper.

Also Genet’s character has some consistency, even if also in this case, her strong character emerges in contrast with Carlo’s, when the departure of Feven for a tour with her orchestra brings her to recover a major role of reference for Robel, who lives for a while in her house: even in her mistrust for Carlo, she shows a degree of comprehension revealing her deep sensitivity. His son Senai, on the contrary, is much more sketched as a character, and appears dominated by suspicion toward Carlo and by pride of contributing to support the education of Robel, playing a surrogate paternal role, during his first five years. It could appear liable of some criticism a casting process that ends us choosing as daughter, mother and son, an Italian young woman of Italian-Beninese ancestry, a Cameroonian mature woman and a Italian young man of Cape Verdean origins, but in this case we consider as much more relevant the option for three performers having a different professional but consistent acting background, as Félicité Mbezele is a familiar face for Italian film, theatre and TV audiences, and Federico Lima Roque sorted out of Dramatic Art National Academy “Silvio D’Amico”, and took part in many theatrical productions, shorts, TV series and webseries.

In conclusion, how are we to deal with this TV series adaptation? Being a product in which possibly for the first time maintream audience is confronted with issues such as Asperger syndrome, female orgasm, masturbation (as for lesbianism, we had at least the case of È arrivata la felicità), just to exemplify, we could legitimately expect that this interracial relation could give the opportunity to the Italian authors to let emerge the recurrent difficulties of Italian society to deal with issues of race and multiculturalism. The choice for Feven and her family – her father dead of a heart attack – of an Eritrean ancestry was an interesting intuition, as one of the major problems that can explain the success of political parties promoting supremacist values as Lega Nord, is the lack of popular concern for Italian colonial past, but that intuition was not developed at all. Even the highly explosive situation that is described in the epilogue of the fourth episode, when during Robel’s birthday party, Ferraros discover that, because of Feven, her mother and brother consider Carlo as an irresponsible father who abandoned his very child up to five years, is treated with a caution confirming in the end the myth of racial innocence of “Italiani brava gente” and translates in this way the original postracial agenda.

Having said that, let’s see the glass half full here again, as for È arrivata la felicità, especially if we confront those products with the highly problematic for its exoticism and rebound of stereotypes ideal response offered by Mediaset with Tutti insieme all’improvviso, but in the end, as for Ivan Cotroneo’s series, we frankly hope that the authors take into account also findings emerged in the narrative of multicultural reality in Italy proposed by Tutto può succedere. In this case, the presence of a US model, conceived to address also a black audience more and more sensitivized to issues of representation enabled the authors to insert in the plot a character like Feven who, diversely from Francesca (Tezeta Abraham) in È arrivata la felicità, doesn’t materialize herself in Roman space out of nothing but has a family and a previous personal history. Here as well, it is to be said, the inclusion of this little nuclear family of Eritrean ancestry risks paradoxically to produce a whitening effect on the portrait of Italian society, as in no other strategic location of the plot, from the high school frequented by Ferraro’s teenagers to Alessandro and Sara’s corporate headquarters, we can’t possibly meet any other member of minorities. So please, dear producers and authors, meditate on this, dare some more and get on a bus: Italian society deserves an investment on diversity much more consistent than this.

Contributors: Leonardo De Franceschi

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