Why are Italians so tenderhearted when it comes to refugees and the immigration crisis? Maybe it’s because they can remember when they were emigrating to the United States and were racially slurred with words like WOPs (With Out Papers). My husband’s Italian-American grandfather told stories about there being a separate (lower) pay scale for Italians at the US Steel Mill that he worked at, and it wasn’t SO very long ago that Italians and other Europeans found America less than welcoming.
Take a look at the stories that Italian filmmakers are telling about today’s immigrants and their search for a better life.
Non C’è Più Religione (There’s No More Religion) is the newest from director Luca Miniero (Benvenuto Al Sud) about a small island community with a shrinking Italian population and virtually no children, creating a problem for nativity scene organizers who need a real baby to play Jesus.
Maybe the neighboring newcomers in the Muslim community can loan them a baby, but there will be a price. The movie takes a very interesting look at the differences and the many similarities of the religions and their followers.
In Terraferma Italian director Emanuele Crialese takes a good long look at the immigration crisis and for his effort was awarded the special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival. The film is set on Lampedusa as is Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary ‘Fuocoammare’, and tells the tale of a fishing boat captain who runs into a raft filled with African immigrants only to lose his boat after he saves them, an act that has been proclaimed illegal by the Italian government. Are the police and the government the bad guys in this movie, or is it a little more complicated?
It’s a little more complicated.
Gianfranco Rosi’s heartbreaking documentary Fuocoammare (Fire At Sea) won the Berlinale’s Golden Bear and is nominated for an Oscar this year, and has been striking a nerve for Americans and our immigration debate. While we tend to talk about who does, and does not deserve to live here in the US, Italians on the island of Lampadusa are concerned with the more immediate job of saving the lives of desperate boat people in perilous situations at sea. Politics will come later.
These men and women will need to be absorbed into an already troubled Europe, or they’ll need to be sent back to their dangerous homelands, but as one resident put it, “If we don’t help them, who will?”
While Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash is for the most part about spoiled rich people and their stupid problems, it ends with a shoutout to refugees with real ones.
Alì Ha Gli Occhi Azzuri (Alì Blue Eyes) from director Claudio Giovannesi tells a story of what is is for new immigrants facing more than just finding acceptance and their place in a new world, they have also to figure out a way to integrate their customs and old life into the new one. Alì Ha Gli Occhi Azzurri does a good job of showing us the heartache and the collateral damage from raising a family in a new country.
The story centers around 16-year-old Egyptian-Italian Nader, whose parents were born in Egypt but he in Italy.
“We’re muslim. We have different ways from the Italians. Mostly religion”, says Nader’s mother and when she locks him out of the house one night when he gets home after midnight and he vows never to return as long as she won’t accept his girlfriend. “I’ll teach her a lesson”, Nader says of his mother, but he doesn’t realize that this is a lesson that can not be taught. His mother will not give up her convictions, even for her son.
When I insisted that my Italian friends watch Emanuele Crialese’s Nuovomondo (The Golden Door) I was taken by surprise that they didn’t love it as much as I did. This story of Italians making the long voyage to Ellis Island is so beautifully told, I was sure that it would mean something to them. It did, but not in the way I anticipated.
“What’s going on here?” I asked my friend Carlo, from Sicily. He sighed and gave me a sad look. “We don’t always like remembering all the people that had to leave Italy.” I think we Americans imagine the whole world just clamoring to be one of us and we forget that most times immigrants are in the US out of necessity and would rather have stayed in the country that they love.
And maybe it’s because of words like WOP. Not all With Out Papers are villains.