Hot Blooded Foreigner by Michaela Di Cesare

Michaela Di Cesare is a playwright/performer with a Master’s Degree in Drama from the University of Toronto. Upon graduation, Michaela received the University’s Launchpad award for her solo play 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived. 8 Ways was presented in Toronto, Montéral, New York City, Ottawa, Hudson, Winnipeg and Stratford. Michaela wrote and performed in In Search of Mrs. Pirandello in the 2016 WildSide Festival (Centaur Theatre Company). Michaela’s relationship with Centaur continued with a mainstage production of her play Successions in the 2017/2018 season (Outstanding New Text, METAs 2018). Her play Extra/Beautiful/U won first place (Pam Dunn Award) in the 2017 Write on Q competition presented by Infinitheatre. Her latest play, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) will premiere with Geordie Productions in September 2019. In development are a new solo show Cult of Progeny and Terroni: A “Spaghetti” Western.

On Easter Sunday 1911, 28-year-old Southern Italian immigrant Angelina Napolitano murdered her abusive husband with an axe while he slept.  She was seven months pregnant. She spent the next hour cuddling with one of her four children before calling a neighbour and saying in her native dialect, “I just killed a pig.” Angelina’s story is notable in Canadian history because she is the first defendant to have used the battered woman defence at trial. Her story sparked international outrage when she was found guilty by an all-male jury and a sentenced to hang by Justice Britton who denied their recommendation for clemency. The judge threw out the evidence of abuse, including Angelina’s multiple stab wounds, as inadmissible.  The local media and the justice system used her case to make an example of unpredictable “hot-blooded foreigners.” Eventually the Liberal government bowed to international pressure and commuted her death sentence to life imprisonment. Angelina’s children were placed in foster homes and the child she was carrying died after being born in prison. After serving 11 years in the Kingston Penitentiary, Angelina was paroled. Her later life is not well-documented and it is unknown whether she reunited with her children.

I am eager to unearth more about this Italo-Canadian woman who started an international dialogue on domestic violence and immigrants’ rights. At the same time, her death sentence and eventual parole gave me pause. I consulted a list of women sentenced to death and executed in Canada (including the French and British colonies before confederation). Though the list was thankfully short, my instinct was that there were glaring omissions. For example, I could not find Marie Joseph Angelique, whose conviction and execution was beautifully rendered in Lorena Gale’s Angelique. I started to realize that Canada has certainly convicted and executed more women than those whose names appear on the list. And this led me to ask, who has access to recognition? To clemency? To parole? How differently would Angelina’s story have played out against the same backdrop if she were a black or indigenous woman in 1911? Or in 2019? What if she was a new arrival in our neighbourhood right now? Is there a way to reopen this conversation from an intersectional feminist perspective? I think so. Please help me investigate.