When, on a hot day in July 1510, in the halls of a noble Florentine palace, a servant gave birth to a boy, no one ever would have imagined that the child would become Duke of Florence and heir to the Medicis, one of the most powerful Renaissance dynasties. Even more so as the boy was black.
Five-hundred years on, Daphne Di Cinto, the African-Italian actor, writer and director, who appeared in the Netflix TV series Bridgerton as the Duke of Hastings’s young mother, is seeking to bring his story back to life and has launched the trailer for her debut short film, Il Moro, a period drama set during Italy’s Renaissance and based on the life of Alessandro de’ Medici, the first black head of state in modern western Europe.
“I discovered his story by chance, as I was conducting research for another project,” Di Cinto said. “I’ll be honest, I found out about him in one of those articles titled Ten people in history you didn’t know were black. And I was stunned. I had never learned about his background and people didn’t seem to be familiar with it either. I strongly felt that his story deserved attention as much as other Afropeans deserve representation in our history.
“I find it so funny that after fictionally giving birth to the most well known black duke around, I would in a way mother this other black duke through telling his story.”
The film follows a dispute among the last male heads of the main lineage of the powerful Medici family. Di Cinto says its goal is to spotlight the vast spectrum of black ancestry and restore a positive and inspiring perception of black identity.
Alessandro, nicknamed il Moro (the Moor) was acknowledged as the illegitimate son of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici – the grandson of one of history’s most renowned art patrons, Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was the symbol of the Florentine banking family whose riches encouraged artists and thinkers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Machiavelli and Galileo. Scholars have also suggested another of the dynasty, Giulio de’ Medici, who later became Pope Clement VII, was Alessandro’s biological father.
“Alessandro’s mother was enslaved, and according to the law at the time, you inherited your mother’s condition,” says Di Cinto, who was born to a Seychellois mother and a white Italian father.
“His life began as an upward climb. People wouldn’t have much consideration for him, which is a striking parallelism to the experience of today’s Afropeans. Today, it’s related to skin colour, back then it was about his ‘low birth’ – it still has the same name: discrimination. In some ways, I see myself in his story. Growing up, having to justify my being Italian was the norm. You will hear similar stories by my fellow Afro-Italians, many of whom aren’t even granted citizenship despite having been born and raised in Italy.”
Alessandro’s story is also one of resilience: despite being stigmatised and disadvantaged from birth as the “son of a black servant”, in 1530, after an agreement between Charles V and Pope Clement VII, he was crowned Duke of Florence and reigned for six years. He was assassinated in a plot conceived by his cousin, Lorenzino de’ Medici, who lured him to his residence the night of January 1537 and murdered him with the aid of an accomplice.
He fell victim after his death to a common practice at the time known as the “condemnation of memory”, in which members of the nobility or artists were purposely denigrated by scholars, often at service of rulers, in order to wipe them from history. Two paintings of him survive in the Uffizi Gallery, by Giorgio Vasari and Agnolo Bronzino, alongside a number of books, academic researches and documents.
“Alessandro was denied a proper burial,” says Di Cinto. “His remains were placed in the tomb of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, in the New Sacristy in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, with no visible name or inscription. This is another aim of the film: to restore him and remember him.”
The 20-minute short is currently on the film festival circuit, starring Alberto Boubakar Malanchino as Alessandro de’ Medici, Paolo Sassanelli as Pope Clement, Balkissa Maiga as Alessandro’s mother and Andrea Melis as Ippolito de’ Medici. The clip will be partly funded by an ongoing crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, with talk already around developing the story into a feature film or series.
“I wanted this film to represent the battle to restore and inspire a positive perception of black identity, not only on the screen, but also on set,” Di Cinto said. “It was important to me that my set mirrored the society that I want to see: my crew includes black women, Afro-Italian people and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Alessandro’s story is not just a black story, it’s everybody’s history and I hope that my viewers will relate to it as much as I did.”