Study Guide

Life Is Beautiful Ethiopian Cake

Ethiopian Cake

The Ethiopian cake is one of the gaudiest baked goods we've ever seen, and we've watched a lot of Cake Wars. Like, an embarrassing amount.

So we had to ask ourselves two questions. First, what's up with this unnecessary confection that looks like it wandered into the movie from day-time reality television? Turns out it's actually a subtle little reminder of the political climate of 1939 Italy.

Quick history lesson: in 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia because, well, it wanted it. Under Benito Mussolini's fascist regime, Italy underwent a major imperial push in the late 1930s, and it decided it wanted to acquire Ethiopia as part of its empire.

By 1936, Ethiopia was defeated and claimed by Italy. The League of Nations' response was some unenforced economic sanctions, and a couple countries exclaimed, "Dude, not cool" (source).

The Ethiopian cake is a subtle, not-so-subtle reminder of how imperialism subjugates not only territory but also cultures and individuals as well.

The cake is a giant ostrich clinging a giant ostrich egg in its mouth. It's decked out with gold chains and giant jewels, like the thing ran blindly through a grandmother's closet. And it's got candles and feathers in the red, green, and white colors of the Ethiopian flag.

Ethiopian culture has been appropriated to be used as a tawdry confection. It's not here so the guests can celebrate Ethiopian culture as a beautiful facet of the universal human experience. Nope. They're celebrating how awesome it was that Italy snagged up Ethiopia for its own. Notice the soldier in the background saluting as the cake goes by.

Yep, there's a guy who's so stoked about imperialism that he salutes a cake.

In fact, despite the name, this cake probably tells us more about fascist Italy's worldview at the time—i.e., the wealth of other countries is ours for the taking—than anything about Ethiopia or its people.

Speaking of which, the people serving the cake are Ethiopians. Again, they aren't there to share their culture as equals. Instead, they've been forced to accept Italian dominance over their culture, and the only room Italian society has for them is as servants.

Of course, this movie isn't about the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. Instead, this imagery shows us the imperialist mindset of the era, one not limited to Italy (it was shared by Germany and Japan), and poke fun at it a bit, too.

Our second question: why do they have tiny mirrors on the side of the cake? Last we checked, mirrors do not make for good eats.

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