‘"America is home … America is her oyster!": Dynamics of ethnic assimilation in Alida Valli’s American star persona

Palmieri, Antonella (2014) ‘"America is home … America is her oyster!": Dynamics of ethnic assimilation in Alida Valli’s American star persona. In: Stars in world cinema: screen icons and star systems across cultures. Tauris World Cinema . I.B.TAURIS. ISBN 9781780769776

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As Diane Negra has observed, European imported actresses offer a good standpoint from which to explore the ethnic and gender dynamics of American society at a given time. As the ‘Other’ in both ethnic and gender terms, they expose twice as forcefully the precariousness of the power associated with white patriarchal hegemony as an organising principle in social and cultural relations. While a significant number of academic interrogations of the complex relationship between Hollywood cinema, whiteness, foreign stars and gendered narrativisations of ethnic and racial identities in American popular culture have recently emerged, there remains no study of the functions served by female Italian film stars in the American cultural reification of Italianness. In this light, and taking into consideration the discursive elements around Italian-born film star Alida Valli’s American persona, this chapter aims to offer a critical, feminist-inflected insight into the intersection of Valli with discourses around gender, gendered roles, whiteness and valued ethnicities in post-World War II American culture. Crucial to my argument is the notion that stars are cultural phenomena that arise from and are inserted into specific historical and social contexts in which they acquire significance and meaning. Integrating secondary sources on matters of race, stardom and gender with historical documents and original analyses of films, the chapter focuses in particular on the extent to which Americanisation and an interventionist imagination impacted on the tailoring of Valli’s image in post-World War II America. I locate her star persona in American culture at a time of significant social readjustment domestically, as well as of a change in power relations between the US and Europe. I suggest that her American image foregrounded a progressive movement towards ethnic assimilation, pointing to the discursive trajectory whereby the potential threat represented by Valli as an ethnic Other is resolved through an on- and off-screen process of ethnic integration. Valli transitioned from the exotic Other whose whiteness in on probation, through the ‘good immigrant’ (played by Valli on screen and off), to the screen ‘trophy wife’ of European origin, rescued by a strong American saviour, the latter a narrative supportive of American interventionism in Europe. In this light I claim that in the context of a progressive social and cultural integration, Valli’s Italianness was located within discourses that bespoke a need to sustain wartime values such as national unity and brotherhood in American society in the aftermath of World War II. Moreover, Valli’s American persona also expressed patriarchal discomfort about the role of women and the control of female sexuality in the post-war years. With the initial reference points provided by the work of scholars such as Richard Dyer in White (1997) and Stars (1998) and Negra in Off-White Hollywood: American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom (2001), these theoretical perspectives on stardom, whiteness, ethnicity and gender are considered alongside the complex and historically variable experience of Italian-Americans as off-white in American society.

Keywords:Film stars, Italiannes, Ethnicity, Whiteness, Gender, Hollywood
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Film)
ID Code:16843
Deposited On:01 Mar 2015 21:46

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