During a period of heightened global concerns about the movement of immigrants and refugees across borders, Migrant Anxieties explores how filmmakers in Italy have probed the tensions accompanying the country’s shift from an emigrant nation to a destination point for over five million immigrants over the course of three decades. Áine O’Healy traces a phenomenology of anxiety that is not only present at the sociopolitical level but also interwoven into the narrative strategies of over 30 films produced since 1990, throwing into sharp relief the interface between the local and the global in this transnational era. Starting with the representation of post-communist migrations to Italy from Eastern Europe and subsequent arrivals from Africa through the controversial frontier of Lampedusa, O’Healy explores topics as diverse as the configuration of migrant labor, affective surrogacy, Italian whiteness, and the legacy of Italy’s colonial history. Showing how contemporary filmmaking practices in Italy are linked to changes in the broader media landscape, O’Healy analyzes the ways in which both Italian and migrant filmmakers are reimagining Italian society and remapping the nation’s borderscape.
1. After 1989: Projecting the Balkans
2. Traffic from the East: Gender, Labor, and Biopolitics
3. African Immigration in the 1990s
4. Migration, Masculinity, and Italy’s New Urban Geographies
5. Imagining an Expanded Mediterranean Borderscape
6. Living with Difference: From Noir to Melodrama
Afterword: Accented and Transnational Filmmaking in Italy
This is a cutting-edge and ambitious project that fills a crucial lacuna in migration screen studies in the Italian context. O’Healy prompts readers to think in important ways about how race, nation, ethnicity, gender, borders, nativity, and citizenship are represented in cinema. This is a timely and important contribution.
Dana Renga, author of Watching Sympathetic Perpetrators on Italian Television: Gomorrah and Beyond
Migrant Anxieties makes a truly outstanding contribution to contemporary Italian Film Studies and to understandings of the multiple effects of the global phenomenon of human displacement.
Professor O'Healy draws on her profound knowledge of modern Italy's socio-political landscape to analyze a very substantial and varied collection of films about migration to Italy made from 1990 to more or less the present day. The sheer complexity of the migration phenomenon indexed not least by the variety of countries migrants to Italy come from requires an equally diverse set of interpretative tools in order to capture accurately how the host nation has responded to new arrivals and grasp the sense of the anxieties that their presence has generated. O'Healy's necessary eclecticism never overshadows her discussion of the films themselves nor of the challenging questions that they give voice to. Her deft use of film theory to explore issues of gender, for instance is accompanied by an impressively handled engagement with economic and social theory to illuminate the gendered enforcements of work and biopolitics.
The book explores very tellingly Italy's expanding sense of place, and one of its key themes is race. It looks back to Italys own colonial history but also explores the nations uncertainties about its own racial identity and its place at the southern edge of Europe. O'Healy is acutely attentive to the political moment from which the films she discusses emerge, and her work very successfully maps both the changing face of Italy and of the socio-political circumstances of migrants themselves. In no sense does she simply give an account of a static phenomenon.
The books final section reflects on recent films being made in Italy's self-consciously postcolonial landscape which invent a new visual vocabulary for a nation whose very complex cultural identity has been so graphically inscribed on screen. OHealy guides the reader through this cinematic landscape with great intellectual generosity and insight.
Migrant Anxieties is both a work of sophisticated, engaged film scholarship and a perlucid dissection of contemporary Italian culture.
Professor Derek Duncan at St Andrews University