#19 – Landings, Punches and Bullets: the New RAI TV Series
#19 – Landings, Punches and Bullets: the New RAI TV Series
In Italy school time is starting these days, TV season is being launched and new TV series presented some months ago finally are being broadcast. With only partial information diffused by press offices, it’s not easy to elaborate on the possible consequences these new TV productions may have on the Italian image of blackness, even though plots circulating offer already food for thought. Some more can be added on casting choices and more generally on the roles for Afrodescendant actors/actresses. As for narratives, following the latest TV season, we keep remarking some more interest for stories and characters related with immigration – especially from Africa – and multicultural society, but the reference point of view belongs all the same to a few, generous and selfless “Italiani brava gente”. Therefore, as for modes of production, this relatively new relevance of narratives related to immigrants fails to result in the construction of round characters, producing more possibilities for Afrodescendant actors and actresses, all the more so because many roles are being given to French-born or French-based performers, even when bankability is not evoked to justify the choice.
As remarked by Anna Mieli in Dossier Statistico Immigrazione 2015, «in Italy […] a relevant rate of audience exists, people watching TV one hour a day on an average and preferring educational programs and only since 2013 was accepted in the Auditel sample for statistical survey, that is immigrants». If we consider RAI Fiction productions, we must admit that, under the direction of Eleonora Andreatta, a considerable effort was made to diversify the provision of content, not only as for formats and platforms, but also regarding genres and themes, with more attention for issues of diversity. Said that, RAI Fiction and societies producing the series to come (Cattleya, Fabula Pictures, Red Film, Cross Productions, Picomedia, ecc.) still fail to invest coherently and effectively on the recovery of those audience niches, related to first and second generation immigrants, that have been till now largely underrepresented on plots and undervalued when it comes to casting and recruiting crew members.
Evidence of this is the approach characterizing on paper the 2-episode miniseries Lampedusa – Dall’orizzonte in poi (Fabula Pictures). To be aired in prime time on RAI 1, Tuesday 20 (today!) and Wednesday 21 September, the series was written by Andrea Purgatori and Laura Ippoliti. Claudio Amendola plays the role of coast guard Marshal Serra who in the summer of 2010 is assigned from Rome to Lampedusa and has to tackle the arrival of thousands of refugees from North Africa, with the only help of some fisherman and of Viola (Carolina Crescentini), head of first reception center. The idea comes originally from an idea of the popular Roman actor, struck by a miraculous rescue of over six hundred shipwrecked immigrants but in developing the preparation, the original event became only a starting point. Judging by the detailed pressbook released by RAI, the dramatic experience of immigrants coming from Libyan coasts is mostly embodied by a black Egyptian boy (Dhaki), performed by young Venji Liam Servina, chosen among over 300 boys in a school at the outskirts of Rome. Good thing for us at least one in three other roles available in the official cast – that of Palestinian Nemer – was given to Ahmed Hafiene, a Tunisian-born naturalized Italian actor, in long pursuit of roles worthy of his acting subtle skills. For the other two were cast two French-based actors, Nina Gary (Fatima, mother of Dhaki) and Farid Elouardi (Adid the trafficker), for the first time in Italy and experienced only for minor roles in French films and TV series.
Similar features are to be found in Chiedilo al mare (Picomedia), as for format (2-episode miniseries), channel and timing (prime time, RAI 1) and concept, directed by Alessandro Angelini, and written by the actor Giuseppe Fiorello with Alessandro Pondi, Paolo Logli and Salvatore Basile. Freely based on a novel by Giovanni Maria Bellu, the TV series deals with the “phantom shipwreck” that took place in the Christmas 1996, when 300 immigrants died in the Strait of Sicily. The information we got are far thinner but here even more than ever, everything suggests that immigrants will be a indefinite, abstract, or plural at best, presence, while fighting for spotlights we’ll have presumably Fiorello, in the shoes of fisherman Saro, and Giuseppe Battiston, two Italian audience favorites.
From social drama to the rules of genre narrative, is somewhat different the framework receiving some Afrodescendant characters and actors/actresses in two long awaited action TV-series. Rocco Schiavone (Cross Productions), a 6-episode series inspired by the crime saga created by Antonio Manzini and screenplayed by Manzini with Maurizio Careddu, and directed by Michele Soavi for RAI 2, has as leading character the eponymous figure of a rugged Roman vice-commissioner, relocated to Aosta for disciplinary reasons and played by Marco Giallini. Alongside him, a cast featuring a few renowned film and TV stars such as Isabella Ragonese and Giorgia Wurth. We’ll have to wait for November to know which episode role was given to Algerian-born Miloud Mourad Benamara, launched by Alessandro Siani in comedy hit Si aspettano miracoli and recently renowned for his participation in variety show Laura & Paola.
Quite similar on paper is the crime 6-episode TV series I bastardi di Pizzofalcone (Clemart), taken from the novels by Maurizio Di Giovanni, written for the screen by De Giovanni with Silvia Napolitano and Francesca Panzanella, and directed for RAI 1 by Carlo Carlei. The plot is centered around a seedy police station waiting to be dismantled, based in Naples, receiving four dirty little coppers. To feature with Alessandro Gassman, we have again a cast rich in familiar names for the Italian audience (Crescentini again, Felice Imparato, Tosca D’Aquino, Massimiliano Gallo). In this case as well we know that among the episode cast several Afrodescendant performers have been hired, from veteran Rufin Doh Zeyenouin (Quo vado?, Noi e la Giulia) to the newcomer Sonia Lo, through the French-Senegalese singer-actress Awa Ly, to Samba Laobe Ndiaye, former competitor in the Italian edition of Big Brother game show and Roman Lorena Cesarini (Il professor Cenerentolo, Arance e martello). All the indications are that, considering the genre approach and the setting, we will see them in the shoes of guys and dolls of local mafia. We just have to wait here too for late autumn.
We can reasonably have more expectations on two other productions, quite different this time. Il sogno di Rocco (Red Film) is a TV movie, directed by Pontecorvo again – after Lampedusa – and written by Liliana Eritrei, Adriana Sabbatini, Salvatore Basile and Nicola Lusuardi in collaboration with Pontecorvo, from the novel The Dancer. Storia d’amore e di pugni in 12 round, by Eritrei e Sabbatini. To lead is Rocco, former-boxer frustrated over the distance from the ring, who runs a gym at Ostia and bumps into a Senegalese boy, Ben Mbasa, with a natural talent for boxing. Rocco persuades Ben to train in his gym and becomes a reference for him, while the big boy brings him back the will to live. Since the plot, one can imagine a slippage in the point of view of the novel, from Ben to Rocco, but we will have time to delve into it. Too bad, what could possibly be the most interesting role at disposal for a black Italian-born or based actor, was assigned again by the production to a French actor, 30 years old French-Cameroonian Yann Gael, noted for playing on stage the clown Chocolat, in the role later to be given to Omar Sy in Chocolat. We can console ourselves, considering that at least, like in the case of the two actors in Lampedusa or of Adel Bencherif in miniseries Anna & Yusef (Cinzia TH Torrini, 2015), we’re dealing with solid, professional actors and not to people with the right face, “taken from the street”.
The other miniseries on which we have more expectations is family drama Tutto può succedere (Cattleya), the Italian remake of Parenthood arrived at its second season: in Ferraro’s saga, focused on the narrative of relations and on the confrontation between generations facing the accidents of life, a space of some significance was conquered by Feven (Esther Elisha), talented violin player of Eritrean descent and accidental companion of the youngest Ferraro, roughneck Carlo (Alessandro Tiberi). The second season will tell more about their ménage, hinged on the little Robel (Sean Ghedion Nolasco), whose existence was revealed to Carlo only when he was already five. All of it, waiting the second season of another family drama for Rai 1 with a black second generation heroine, Ivan Cotroneo’s È arrivata la felicità that launched newcomer Tezeta Abraham and whose scenario is still under revision.
If we have only the last paragraph of this article left for other TV channels is just to underline their absolute disregard to invest in the making of original series somewhat interesting for the issues of diversity and inclusion. The deceiving result, for the audience numbers and not only, of Tutti insieme all’improvviso (Picomedia), to the detriment of brilliant Félicité Mbezele, drove the CEOs of Mediaset to abstain from any new proposal. No surprise if we can’t find the names of two actors already evoked, Rufin Doh Zeyenouin and Samba Laobe Ndiaye, in the official cast of 8-episode miniseries Rimbocchiamoci le maniche (Endemol), directed by Stefano Reali, aired by Canale 5 from 7 September, as they were presumably hired in two minor roles. As for Italian branches of Sky and Netflix, heaven can wait: despite the presence in the lineup of series well appreciated by the US black audience such as Scandal, Empire and Orange is the New Black, never crossed broadcasters’ mind the idea to try and expand the audience numbers in Italy as well, bidding on the underrepresented niche of first and second generation immigrants. Never too late.
NB. The original, Italian version of this article was published by Cinemafrica-Africa e diaspore nel cinema.
Contributors: Leonardo De Franceschi
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