By Rosario A. Iaconis (The Long Island Press – February 24, 2019)
Despite garnering five Academy Award nominations, Green Book is
kryptonite to Italian Americans.
Indeed, with its plethora of repugnant anti-Italian tropes, this Peter
Farrelly opus represents nothing so much as a vowel-inflected minstrel
And Viggo Mortensen’s depiction of Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga as a
dumb-downed bouncer with Mob connections reinforces Hollywood’s
institutionalized Italophobia. It matters little to the film’s
creators that orchestra, concerto, a capella, opera, maestro, allegro,
adagio, and pianoforte, are all the handiwork of a fine Italian mind.
Tinseltown is besotted with the schadenfreude engendered by The
Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, Casino, Donnie Brasco, Married to the
Mob, Prizzi’s Honor, Analyze This, Analyze That, The Untouchables, A
Bronx Tale, Shark Tale, Mafia! and The Family.
David Chase’s Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, will
continue this repellent cinematic tradition, as will Martin Scorsese’s
The Irishman, a Mob flick rife with violent sausage-and-pepper thugs.
Also, let’s not forget that Spike Lee, who has received a Best
Director nomination for BlacKkKlansman, rose to fame and fortune by
aiding and abetting La La Land’s anti-Italian canon via Jungle Fever,
Do the Right Thing and Summer of Sam.
Green Book‘s co-screenwriter Nick Vallelonga has added to such ethnic
vilification, making a mockery of his father and his heritage. In one
of the movie’s car-bound scenes, Tony Lip informs Dr. Don Shirley, the
African-American classical pianist, that he has no problem with people
who find “guineas” to be pizza-guzzling, meatball-sucking oafs.
The movie gleefully features a bevy of corpulent linguine-inhaling
capos and goombahs.
In his nightclub riff about ethnicities, comedian Sebastian
Maniscalco, who has a small role in Green Book, pays homage to his
wife’s Jewish roots but refers to Italians as “brick-layers, not
doctors.” Apparently, Maniscalco has never heard of Dr. Joseph
Giordano, who headed the trauma team that saved President Ronald
Reagan’s life following an attempted assassination in 1981. Nor is he
aware that Dr. Francesco Crucitti saved Pope John Paul II after
gunshot wounds to the pontiff’s abdomen that same year. Born in Reggio
Calabria, Italy, Dr. Crucitti was the director of the Institute of
General Surgery at Catholic University in Rome.
And chances are that neither Nick Vallelonga nor Sebastian Maniscalco
knows that Dr. Emil Naclerio helped save Martin Luther King’s life in
1958 after the civil rights giant was stabbed with a 7-inch steel
letter opener that had reached King’s aorta.
As for Viggo Mortensen, one wonders if he actually believes his
boilerplate spin on stereotyping. “I’m sensitive to the fact that
there’s not only a lot of great Italian-American actors out there
capable of playing this role [but also] a history of memorable
Italian-American characters, on TV and in movies,” he was quoted as
saying. “So I didn’t want to offend anyone.”
Mortensen’s disingenuous spiel is emblematic of Hollywood’s contempt
for Caesar’s heirs. Journalist Clyde Haberman has noted that “Italian
Americans continue to be shown only as Mafiosi and foul-talking louts
obsessed with cheating on their wives and shooting controlled
substances up their noses.”
Rather than depicting Italians as a largely professional and
entrepreneurial class of achievers — whose lineage includes the Pax
Romana, the Renaissance, modern science, accounting, capitalism and
America’s res publica — Tinseltown’s moguls have enshrined the scions
of Italy as olive-oil-and-garlic Stepin Fetchits.
Whether it’s patrimony envy or embedded intolerance, such demonization
should be expunged if we are to clean house and foster diversity in
Hollywood. For as Filippo Mazzei explained to Thomas Jefferson: “All
men are created equal.”
And if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is serious
about bridging the diversity divide, then it should embrace an ancient
Italian maxim: E pluribus unum — Out of many, one.