Worthy Citizens: A Short Movie On Catcalling

Actress-writer Carolina de' Castiglioni’s body of work pushes back against the status-quo.

Catcalling Carolina de' Castiglioni
Carolina de' Castiglioni, director of the short film Rispettabili Cittadine.

Carolina de’ Castiglioni’s latest project Worthy Citizen (Rispettabili Cittadine), premiered on all social media platforms on April 17 for the International Anti-Street Harassment Week, asks the following question: When it comes to catcalling and its derivatives, who should we educate, girls or men?

Set in a classroom, during a class of Civic Education, ten pre-teens girls stand in front of their buttoned-up to the neck professor (Portrayed by Carolina). Today’s programme? How to react to catcalling, street harassment and in general, inappropriate verbal demands from men. Full of absurdism and turning the statistics on their heads (“37 percent of men are afraid to leave their houses at night, fearing they will be tempted by a woman just walking by’’), the film follow this cringing lesson on how to be ‘A worthy-female citizen and well-mannered lady’. Ouch.

The numbers are daunting. Close to 44% of the female population of Italy, both women and girls have experienced some form of sexual harassment, according to new figures from national statistics agency Istat. The girls were as young as 14.

In Italy and worldwide, organizations are working hard on trying to make catcalling and all these forms of harassment a crime. Chalk Back, a global youth-led movement that is committed to ending gender-based street harassment with public chalk art, video work and education, is one of them. The activists write stories of harassment word-for-word in the spots where they happened alongside the hashtag #stopstreetharassment using sidewalk chalk and then post on social media to encourage dialogue and foster awareness.

WannaBeSafe Italia another organization is petitioning hard  to make catcalling a crime. Carolina has partnered with the latter on her project. While the project’s tone might seem absurdist and full of irony, Carolina, through her field-research and partnership with key organizations has peppered in the script, existing catcalls such as “What’s the color of your underwear?’’ and “If you turn around, I’ll f*ck you.’’ According to a study led by Hollaback and Cornell University conducted in 42 cities around the world 80% of women had heard sentences addressed to them in that vein.

Carolina’s dedication to social advances and the fight against gender-based agressions does not stop here. Carolina previously starred in Ridiamoci Su! (Let’s joke about it!), a documentary short made for International Women’s Day. Dressed in a formal Hillary-like suit, she stands in front of us, presenting a series of media clips and addressing the evident sexism present in Italian media. It gathered about 800,000 views in under 24 hours.

We’re excited to talk to Carolina today, to continue this much-needed conversation and ask a few questions behind the making of Worthy Citizens. Let’s dive in.

Congratulations on your recent achievements. We’ll get more into this but first of all, could you tell us a bit more about yourself? Where do you come from and what do you do? 

Thank you! I am an actress and a writer. I was born and raised in Milan, Italy, but lived in different cities, such as Buenos Aires, Paris, Harvey Bay in Australia and, of course, New York.

And what do I do? I am an actress and a writer. What I try to do with the work I create is to get the conversation started on topics which are often complex to face and understand.

Your films have the common thread of activism, gender and social justice. Your previous film Barracuda covered the themes of sexual assault for instance. Could you tell us more about this journey? 

Barracuda was born as a research project. I was interested in understanding how survivors deal with sexual assault. I grew up with the conviction that rape just happened when you were conscious and probably walking alone down the street. It never occurred to me that it could happen by the hands of someone I know, someone I trust. Unfortunately, if you look at statistics, 80% of survivors were raped by a friend, a boyfriend or ex boyfriend, or even husband. Someone they knew and trusted. And what happens after, the feelings one has after, vary. Some survivors go to the hospital, some report their rapists, others don’t, others keep seeing their rapists, others didn’t think it was rape. And I could go on, because there is no single experience of sexual assault that would fit everyone. It’s personal. I thought that the media was missing this sort of narrative and started researching: my idea is would be to one day, to direct a movie about the different ways people experience sexual assault, because this is a very delicate and complex project. Barracuda was an experiment that came out of that thought process.

Let’s talk about your latest project Worthy Citizen, what was the process like, how did it come to life?

I realized that, while talking about feminism — or the microaggressions I was experiencing — to my family and loved ones, I would usually get either overheated or very sensitive. And these feelings do not benefit the conversation, rather, they imperil it, making it very difficult for my interlocutors to grasp the importance of the issues that are being tackled.

Then I realized that I had studied acting. I had a magic tool to use, and through it I could create worlds and characters that would allow me to get my point through more effectively.

So far what has been the response in the industry and media?

So far so good.

There were a lot of young actresses in your project: did they share anything with you? Did you have an intimacy director on set, or a professional to guide them through the process? How does the new generation combat and engage with those issues?

The actresses were amazing: not just exemplary for their work, but also for their behavior. They were polite, fun and a joy to work with.

We had an amazing psychologist, Giulia Arnold, to guide them through the process. But I must say, they are very smart young ladies and really took this project at heart. They gave me hope, I think the next generations are going to handle these issues better than us.

This project was in partnership with various key organizations, fighting against catcalling, and various aggressions, verbal and others, towards women. Could you talk more about their work and your partnership with them for this project?

For this project I partnered with WannaBeSafe Italia and Catcalls of Milan, which is part of the global network created by Catcalls of New York.

WannaBeSafe, founded by Linda Guerrini, started a petition to ask the Italian Parliament to make catcalling a crime. Hopefully the short movie gave it more visibility. Linda was a precious team member and support system. We became friends and often joke about the fact that, even if catcalling really sucks, at least it made us meet each other.

Catcalls of Milan, guided by Valentina Fattore, aims to raise awareness on the violence of catcalling. Valentina and other volunteers go around the city of Milan, writing with chalks the catcalling sentences anonymous Instagram users received. These sentences range from “Ciao bella!” to “If you turn around once more I’ll f*ck you.” Through their work, people can read what many women hear while walking down the streets.

Speaking in broader terms of the representation of women and quite frankly minorities in the Italian television and film landscape, what are some frustrating experiences you might have had and what are some initiatives we can put into place to foster change?

The dialogues and the scenes for women in the italian entertainment industry are limited and often badly written. Most of them — if not all — don’t pass the Bechdel test (A measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man). I think a good solution would be to include more young women in the creative writing teams or create writer’s rooms with ‘real’ people, who aren’t professional and aren’t over 40.

Your short film Let’s joke about it addresses this. Could you talk more about this project? 

The short movie I made for International Women’s Day focuses on the representation of women just in Italian media, not Italian movies, TV series or theater. I took some clips from shows, commercials and interviews that highlighted the discrimination that women face everyday and that TV feeds our minds constantly. I really believe that representation matters and that it shapes the way we conceive other human beings. Therefore, if on TV we are used to seeing men say to women “Stai zitta!” (Shut up!), this type of aggression gets normalized.

The italian maestro/film director is white, older and male, but things are changing. Any Italian or Italian descent filmmakers who are women whose work you’d like to highlight?

I think that in Italy to this regard things are changing pretty slowly. There are a few women whose work I admire (Alice Rohrwacher, Ginevra Elkann, Carolina Cavalli, Susanna Nicchiarelli), but they are still a huge minority in regards to male directors. We need to work towards more inclusive narratives, and by that I mean creating space for different voices, taking into account that agism too represents a big issue for the Italian entertainment industry.

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