When Will Hollywood Stop Beating Up on Italian Americans?

[As published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 11, 2019]

Contrary to actual history, Italian Americans have been portrayed as either gangsters, buffoons or gum-chewing bimbos. This tradition continues with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

The Bank of America. Planter’s Peanuts. Tropicana Orange Juice. Barnes & Noble bookstores. The Radio Flyer Red Wagon. The Securities and Exchange Commission. The Jacuzzi. The pilot ejector seat. The first computer microprocessor. The shopping mall. Multicultural education. And even the McDonald’s Big Mac hamburger.

What do all of these long-accepted symbols of Americana have in common?They sprang from the creative genius of Italian Americans.

Since 1915, however, with the release of the short film The Italian, Hollywood has told — and sold — a different story. Contrary to actual history, Italian Americans have been portrayed as either gangsters or buffoons (male) or gum-chewing bimbos (female). And this tradition continues with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman— which, despite its deceptive title, conveys the same negative tropes over 100 years later.

In 2015, our educational institute conducted a survey of the Italian image in movies over the past century. Two findings were especially disturbing:

After the success of the 1972 fictional film The Godfather, there was an 81% increase in the number of mob movies produced by Hollywood over the next four decades, from 98 (1915-1972) to 438 (1972-now).

Even more disturbing: Nearly 90% of mob films feature Italian gangster characters who have no basis in reality; that is, they are entirely fictitious.

In other words, for every film about, say, Al Capone, another eight mob movies feature fake Italian gangster stereotypes. “Reel life” dominates “real life.”

A rare film based on a true story, such as The Irishman, is then used to rationalize Hollywood’s obsession with Italian surnamed criminals: “See? The mob existed!  You Italian Americans are in denial.”

Wrong! It is Hollywood that is in denial.  They continue to deny the complexity — and yes, genius — of actual Italian American history. – BDC

Hollywood’s One-Two Punch on Stereotypes

[as published in The Daily Herald (Chicago suburbs) 12/10/2019]

Burt Constable is an excellent journalist; however, his checklist of literal “mob hits” in his recent article on the Outfit displays what our institute has long called the Hollywood/Media Axis, to wit: Tinsel Town acts as the unofficial PR firm of Italian thugs (i.e., gives them publicity in films like “The Irishman”), which in turn inspires journalists to dredge up reams of print-type and photos on them, pumping up their bad reputations even more. It’s a one-two punch.

A few years ago, James Whitey Bulger, the king of Boston crime, was finally caught and convicted. His press coverage didn’t receive a fraction of the hype given in 1992 to John Gotti, who became Time magazine’s cover boy. Why? Bulger was Irish.

In 1984, a group of gangsters killed 13 of their rivals in a warehouse on a cold February day, surpassing Chicago’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The public doesn’t know about this. Why? The gangsters were Asian.

Hollywood needs to stop its endless assembly line of Italian mob movies, and journalists need to widen the spotlight on organized crime, not lower the beam on Italians.

It’s the only way to start balancing the picture when it comes to Italian American history — a history which includes heroic American labor leaders like Luigi Antonini, Lou Fraina, Arturo Giovannitti, Carlo Tresca and Angela Bambace, all of whom nobly represented the common working people. -BDC

2 thoughts on “When Will Hollywood Stop Beating Up on Italian Americans?”

  1. We would be remiss in listing accomplishments of Italian Americans by failing to include our unrivaled and stellar contributions to the arts, both classical and popular. The current roster of Metropolitan Opera conductors has an impressive array of Italians. The scions of the Mezzogiorno have in many way shaped popular music in the United States. No shortages of fashion designers, painters, and authors grace our legacy also.

    1. It is possible now on cable-TV to see three series featuring I-A criminal activities: “The Sopranos”, “Boardwalk Empire” and the new entry, “Harlem is Mine”. All three series, but especially the last two, portray Italian Americans as semi-literate, uncivilized and given to gratuitous violence. This is in contrast to all of the other groups portrayed (Irish, Jews, African-Americans, Polish, etc.) which, even though criminals, are portrayed with a certain degree of dignity. So what does the future hold? Almost certainly, more of the same, and this will have to run its course. Maybe people like Angelina Jolie will produce and direct more positive movies or series for balance. We have a truly impressive history in the U.S., which could provide the material for many positive movies. Some leadership is necessary though, which we appear to be sorely lacking.

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