The story of Italy’s most beloved adult performer and cultural legend.
For such a religious country, Italy has a long and proud porn tradition. This might be the nation that put Bernardo Bertolucci under house arrest for making Last Tango in Paris in the 1970s, but it’s also the nation that brought us some of the most ambitious 35mm films of the 1980s and 1990s, and is the home to performers, from Cicciolina to Rocco Siffredi, for whom smut seems less a job than a vocation. And in turn, the Italian people treat their porn stars as national treasures, not dangerous degenerates or fucked up victims. Case in point, the late, great Moana Pozzi.
Moana Pozzi was born on the 27th April 1961 in a village near Genoa, Italy. Although raised in a conservative Catholic family (their one moment of liberal extravagance came in naming their daughters Moana and Tamiko), she decided to forego the opportunity to read philosophy at university and instead moved into the rapidly expanding Italian sex industry at the age of eighteen.
Her career began with nightclub appearances where she would sing and dance in varying states of undress, and progressed to erotic movies in 1981, making her debut in Valentina Ragazza in Calore, filmed at the same time that she was starring on children’s TV show Tip Tap Club. Something had to give, and Moana chose porn. By 1984, she was a regular on Italy’s incredible softcore TV shows, and in the following ten years, she would star in a huge variety of hardcore films and videos, as well as guesting on erotic TV programmes and appearing in numerous pornographic magazine photospreads. Much of her work was with Italian porn king Riccardo Schicchi and his Diva Futura studio, and she often co-starred with La Cicciolina – Ilona Staller in extravagant, kinky and provocative 35mm movies, made at a time when American hardcore had descended into a world of two-day shot-on-video cheap thrills. Schicchi’s films were porn as an art form, often pushing the limits of acceptability but doing so in a visually impressive and hugely ambitious way, very much in the tradition of Europe’s enfant terrible directors like Fellini.
Fellini himself saw the connection and cast Moana in Ginger and Fred. This small part wasn’t the result of her simply filling the role anonymously – Fellini was an admirer of her work and had specifically cast her. By this time, Moana was a bona fide celebrity and sexual icon. She became a familiar face across Italy, appearing on chat shows and discussing sex education on radio broadcasts. She confounded critics who wanted to portray her as just another porn queen with philosophical discussion and intellectual conversation, and she deliberately courted artists and intellectuals. It was, in many ways, logical for her to enter politics – not riding on the coat-tails of Cicciolina, as many outside Italy had claimed, but in a genuine desire to affect change in her country. Those who initially saw her parliamentary campaigns as a gimmick were astounded to discover that she actually had a platform of ideas and beliefs. Together with other porn stars, she formed The Love Party in 1992 and many of the international journalists who came along to mock and hopefully ogle some bare flesh left impressed with Moana’s grasp of Italy’s chaotic political situation. Moana’s attempts to become mayor of Rome were unsuccessful, but she had made her point. Karl Lagerfeld asked her to appear on his catwalk show in 1993, leading to Vogue editor Anna Wintour – hardly someone, you might think, who could sit in moral judgement of others – flouncing out in disgust.
In 1991, Moana wrote an autobiography, Moana’s Philosophy, in which she ranked her celebrity lovers, including Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, assorted footballers and writers, and – under the name ‘the politician’ – former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi. Like Cicciolina, she performed pop songs on sexy variety shows for Italy’s independent TV channels (and like Cicciolina, it proved that singing was not her strong point), and in the porn world made some hundred or so movies, working with directors like Gerard Damiano on international projects as well as Schicci’s films and rather less impressive films for the likes of Mario Bianchi. By and large, her films were beneath her, but her best work is up there with the finest of adult cinema. In 1988, she was joined in the porn business by sister Tamiko, who performed as Baby Pozzi until 1994.
Moana died of liver cancer (a complication of Hepatitis B, picked up during a trip to Asia) on September 17th 1994 in Lyon, France, surrounded by her family and clutching a pink rosary. At her own request, she had no funeral, no ceremony, and no mourning. Her ashes were instead quietly scattered across The Mediterranean Sea. Her death unleashed a torrent of grief across Italy. Serious, intellectual newspapers and magazines like La Stampa and Il Manifesto mourned her death as one might mourn a great statesman. Columnist Roberto D’Agostino paid tribute to her and reminded readers that she died at the same age as Jesus Christ. Even Catholic priests seemed happy to forgive her pasts ‘sins’ and to suggest that being a porn star did not necessarily make her a bad person, with the Archbishop of Naples giving a homily in her honour. Her transition from carnality to canonisation seemed complete when L’Espresso proclaimed her as “Santa Moana, Vergine” on the cover.
Over the years, her death has become the stuff of conspiracy theories – some believe that she faked her death to escape her fame, and even now is living quietly somewhere. Others think that she was a KGB agent, killed by the Russian government (the evidence backing this up is sketchy, to say the least). Some say that the Mafia – of whom she was a vocal critic – killed her. Her husband, Antonio di Ciesco, claimed in 2007 to have euthanised her as her condition deteriorated. A 2006 TV revealed her death certificate, proving that she had died of liver cancer – but the conspiracy theories continue.
And Moana remains an iconic figure in Italy. Disney even changed the name of their movie Moana to Vaiana in Italy to avoid the connection – it might have led to awkward Amazon searches for the DVD, especially as a 2006 mini-series, Moana, told the story of Moana Pozzi’s life. The mini-series has, predictably, yet to appear on British or American TV.
Moana remains a well-known and much-loved figure almost twenty years after her untimely death. Her supporters continue to press for her overdue sainthood to be confirmed.