Television narratives of the Italian migrant worker: Disaster stories of sacrifice and redemption | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 2, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2047-7368
  • E-ISSN: 2047-7376



In the 2000s RAI television drama makes a temporal turn that coincides with Second Republic’s revisionism of the divided memory of crucial episodes in post-Unification Italian history. This article examines two historical mini-series on Italian migration in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Il Grande Torino/The Great Torino (2005) and Marcinelle/Inferno Below (2003). In both narratives the microhistory of migration lived and performed by ordinary people is coupled with the macrohistory of disaster: respectively the 1949 Superga airplane crash, which brought an end to the Grande Torino football team, and the Marcinelle coalmine fire of 8 August 1956, which killed 136 Italian workers. These historical narratives work within transmedial constellations of cultural memory and interact with institutionalized collective memory. In both cases the model image of the Italian migrant worker as a redemptive figure of Italy’s post-war regeneration in television documentaries of the 1950s and 1960s is replaced by a contemporary ambivalent representation of the paradoxes of migration, and redemption is activated instead by the story of disaster and as a specific quality of Italian character. Both episodes can be seen as a homage to the sacrifice of labour of the Italian worker with the difference that the main character of Il Grande Torino/The Great Torino sacrifices his individual migrant story to the memory of the Superga disaster, while Marcinelle’s hero becomes the redemptive figure of the Italian migrant worker thanks to the exceptional circumstances created by the mine catastrophe.


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