When you hear the phrase “Black in Rome,” what images or stories come to mind? From the nation’s reluctant acceptance of North and West African refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea to the scandalous racial slur used against the first Afroitaliano government minister, the racial climate in Italy does not seem too welcoming if you follow the news. But Tamara Pizzoli, a media professional from the state of Texas, has called on a multigenerational group of more than a dozen predominantly African American women to share their unique perspectives as expats in “the eternal city.”
The result is In Nero: Black Girls in Rome, Portraits and Narratives. The 13-minute video combines stunning portraits by Sara Shamsavari against the Roman backdrop and interviews with the women who explain the good and the bad of their lives in Italy.
At times, they make Italy sound like the next melting pot, where brown skin is met with admiration, curiosity and desire, where their children are welcomed and embraced. But the ladies also reveal brushes with racial aggression and stereotypes, from being mistaken for sex workers to the impact of the migrant situation on everyday Italians’ attitudes towards people of African descent.
If you are a student of history, these stories may take you back to the mid-twentieth century, when African American artists and entertainers such as Josephine Baker and James Baldwin fled the United States for France. They found themselves en vogue with the Parisian intelligentsia during a time when France was still actively colonizing large parts of West Africa.
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In Nero could mean black, as in the color, or In Nero can mean what we would take as “to work under the table.” We’re trying to provide a platform for a group of people who are contributing significantly to this society and others, but whose stories aren’t necessarily told accurately by them. ~ Dr. Tamara Pizzoli
Il Nero is just the beginning of Pizzoli’s vision: she is developing a web series about the black girl experience in Rome, which will join a growing number of online travel blogs and shows featuring black expats and adventurers. As In Nero participant Milissa Grant explains, “I think it’s important that black women wherever we are… create our own narrative, and other people are not allowed to create it for us.”
Check out the featured video and tell us what you think in the comment section. Have you been to Rome yourself? Do their stories make you want to visit Italy or even consider immigrating? Do you know Afroitalianos or are you one who has seen a different side of the country?