Italy is a country is not really known for its support of same-sex couples. But it would appear we’ve found a new champion in the actor Sabrina Ferilli, who is seeking to change the perception of lesbians in a country where homosexuality is often depicted in negative terms.
Ferilli is starring in Io e Lei (She and I), a romantic comedy released in cinemas this week that depicts what critics are calling a “normal” lesbian relationship.
Fabrizio Marrazzo, a LGBT rights campaigner with the campaign group Arcigay, reported
It is an important movie that is speaking to society and politicians, and it’s saying that there aren’t rights for gay and lesbian couples. Sabrina Ferilli is a real female symbol in Italy. It’s important she has this role so that people understand that lesbians don’t come from another planet.”
Marrazzo adds, noting that gay and lesbian people in Italian films are usually characterised in very stereotypical ways, with men looking feminine and women looking butch.
Ferilli has compared her decision to take on the role to Tom Hanks’s decision to play a gay man with Aids in the 1993 film Philadelphia. Hanks was the first box office star to play a gay man and won an Oscar for his portrayal of a sick lawyer who sued his firm for discrimination.
An article in Italian daily La Stampa said that the value of Io e Lei, a film by Maria Sole Tognazzi, was that it would not scare people, but instead “entered on tiptoe” in a country that regards same-sex relationships as deeply controversial.
It has also been noted that the film “minimises the erotic sphere”, and has been called the “anti-Blue is the Warmest Colour” – the critically acclaimed French film about a lesbian relationship, which contained several graphic sex scenes.
Ferilli told La Stampa
I was caught by the idea of a story of two women who love each other, with total communion of feelings. I never turn away from battles. We live in a country that is bigoted, that leaves people on the street, with no solutions, particularly those who are considered not normal.”
The film’s release comes as Italian lawmakers are gearing up for a potentially controversial vote this month that would offer same-sex couples the right to a civil union.
Italy is now the only major western European country that does not recognise such partnerships.
Matteo Renzi, the centre-left prime minister, has vowed since he came to power last year to pass legislation offering same-sex couples the right to civil unions, but he has struggled to find a willing majority to push the law through.
The proposal faces tough opposition from Catholic groups and conservative parties.
Italy is facing international pressure to act following a July ruling by the European court of human rights that found the country did not offer adequate legal protection and recognition to same-sex couples.
Marrazzo, the gay rights campaigner, said a majority of Italians do support civil union rights – about 80% – although support wanes when people are asked whether LGBT couples ought to be allowed to adopt children.
Marrazzo sees the release of Io e Lei as a good step, even if the real battles ahead cannot be left only to “fiction”.