Film / TVMusic

AFROPUNK Cinema Noir: Antonio Distefano’s ‘Autumn Beat’ Is Black, Brilliant, and Beautiful

February 23, 2023

Over the past few months, the political and environmental climate of Italy has raised eyebrows. Between the election of right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and cities fighting against damage wrought by flooding, the situation is alarming. Nonetheless, Italy will always be revered as the birthplace of some of human history’s most brilliant politicians, philosophers, and artists.

To the point of artistry, regardless of the medium, Italy’s cultural and artistic exports are internationally renowned. Directed by Antonio Dikelo Distefano, Autumn Beat is a new addition to the country’s artistic exports, a coming-of-age drama set in Milan. The film spans thirty years following the story of two brothers, Paco and Tito, navigating immigrant poverty, adolescence, and their dream of being in the music industry.

Autumn Beat through a youthful eye

Performed by Mohamed Diallo and Abby 6ix, Paco is the true-born performer between the two. Whereas Tito, played by Hamed Seyou and Marco Renna, is the bonafide writer. With these skills, they are a force of a duo. Meanwhile their mother, Grace is an African immigrant trying to provide for her children. Where Tito is the better-natured child, Paco has a strong sense of responsibility towards his brother, but a devil-may-care attitude towards Grace. Tito, the shyest of the two brothers, suffers grave complications after an incident involving Paco, further entrenching Paco’s sense of responsibility towards him. At the same time, as great as his responsibility for others, so is his sense of entitlement.

A prevailing focal point of Autumn Beat is the plight of Black youth in Italy. Distefano drives this point home in depicting each character’s story over a thirty year period, with great emphasis on their years as minors. To note the plight of Black youth in Italy, Distefano casts brilliant young talent to bring each character to life. One such, example is Marco Renna, the 13-year old actor who portrays young Paco was an avid football player before making a foray into the performing arts. 

Socio-economic experiences make the person and the art

While racism and poverty are pointed out through the film, societal perceptions of parenthood are challenged as well. Tito and Paco’s fathers are clearly absent throughout the film; granted Tito is interested in finding his father, while Paco has accepted that his father isn’t in the picture and moves accordingly. Interestingly, it is the maternal figures in the film that further interrogate parenthood. Grace, played by Juliet Joseph, suffers what looks to be a mental breakdown. 

On the other side of the spectrum, Ife, played by Geneme portrays the story of reluctant motherhood. It’s unclear what exactly transpired between her and Paco, she was reluctant to become a mother, navigating a relationship with a philandering musician, and trying to cultivate a mature life experience in her 30s. One of the many reasons that this is significant is in how it juxtaposes stereotypes of women (and sometimes girls) being innately ready for motherhood. The character of Ife reinforces the idea that becoming a parent is a serious life decision that warrants serious consideration – especially for the person carrying the child. 

Music is universal, even Italian rap

Social issues in Autumn Beat are set against the backdrop of seeking success in Italy’s rap scene. Throughout the world, it’s understood that music careers are capital intense. The same idea is depicted in this film. While actors act, musicians make music – they’re best equipped to articulate the difficulties and realities of working in the music industry. Dylan Magon and Guè Pequeno play the roles of David and Guè, respectively. However, in real life, both men are contributors to Italy’s music scene. In 2018, David shared, “[For me, writing and singing is really a need, almost a drug, from which I can’t and I don’t want to detox. It is the remedy for all my “illness”].”

The way each character’s attachment to music is portrayed, it’s clear that Dylan’s sentiment permeated throughout the film. In essence, not only does Autumn Beat present itself as a dynamic Italian artistic export, it’s a universal story. At its core, Autumn Beat is Black, brilliant, and beautiful.