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'A Bronx Tale' and the Stereotyping of Italian Americans

Letter to The Baltimore Sun, November 19, 2013

Actor Chazz Palminteri performed his one-man show, "A Bronx Tale," based on the 1993 film of the same name (which was, itself, based on the very same original one-man show), in Baltimore on Sunday ("The 18 sides of Chazz Palminteri," Nov. 15). Its chief selling point, for most people, is the sense of "nostalgia" it seems to awaken, particularly among Italian Americans who grew up in mostly Italian neighborhoods in our nation's cities (e.g., Baltimore's Little Italy).

As our Roman ancestors would have said, however, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Although Mr. Palminteri is, by all accounts, a very nice man, this still doesn't mean that he isn't guilty of exploiting Italian American stereotypes for profit.

The sad, simple truth is that actors like Mr. Palminteri, and filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, are partly to blame for the deeply degraded media image of Italian Americans that is, we are either "mobbed up" (endless gangster movies) or "dumbed down" (see the current film "Don Jon" to witness how Italian American fathers are now depicted). They know that selling Italian mob stories is the only thing that will earn Hollywood or Broadway approval. It is a vicious game, and it's a shame that Mr. Palminteri and others play it.

Yes, Mr. Palminteri knew a mobster while growing up in the Bronx. So what? You know who else grew up in the Bronx? Actress Anne Bancroft (born Anna Italiano); painter Ralph Fasanella; author Dom Di Lillo; Leonard Riggio, founder of Barnes and Noble; and the Piccirilli brothers no, not a criminal gang, but a family of artisans who designed the Lincoln Memorial statue in Washington, D.C.

Someday, people will learn about these great Americans and perhaps even learn that the words "mobster" and "Italian" are not synonymous.

Bill Dal Cerro,
Floral Park, N.Y.

 
 
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