'A Bronx Tale': Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying
Op-Ed, The Daily Journal of Millville, New Jersey,
January 11, 2015
On Jan. 31, at the Levoy Theater in Millville, actor Chazz
Palminteri stages a revival of his original play "A Bronx
Tale" (which was turned into a popular 1993 movie with
Robert De Niro).
The chief appeal of the show, particularly for Italian
Americans of a certain era, is to wax nostalgic over
memories of "the old neighborhood" — that is, for the
many Little Italys that once dotted the American landscape
but which have since become either tourist traps or yuppie
Although Italians have made amazing progress in America in
every field of endeavor, sometimes even within one or two
generations, there is still one arena — simple yet
powerful — where we remain second-class citizens: namely,
the entertainment industry (movies, television, and
Sadly, the people who are in the greatest position to change
such negative perceptions are Italian American actors,
writers and directors. Ironically, they are the ones who
have inflicted the worst damage on our community by catering
to the mainstream culture's relentlessly distorted view of
A quick look at Palminteri's career over the past 20 years
provides a good example of what I'm talking about.
Although he did play a competent Italian American detective
in "The Perez Family" (1995), the bulk of his Italian
surnamed characters merely amplify the Italians-are-thugs
mentality, which still pervades Hollywood. To wit:
In "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994), he played a thug
with theatrical aspirations.
In "Analyze This" (1999), he was nemesis to Robert De Niro's equally thuggish gangster.
In "Boss of Bosses" (2001), he played thug Paul
In 2005's "In The Mix," in an apparent nod to the
Millennial generation, he played a thug opposite the popular
Expanding his talents to the world of video gaming,
Palminteri voiced thug Sal DeLuca for 2013's "Mob of the
Dead." In 2014, he took a break from movies and videos to
bring mob stereotypes to television via "Blue Bloods"
(as a mobbed-up lawyer) and "Law and Order" (as a
But, not every Italian surnamed TV role was mob-related:
He also played the recurring role of Frank Rizzoli Sr., the
crude and clueless father to the female detective on
"Rizzoli & Isles." Even Italian TV dads are bad!
Also during 2014, in addition to his touring show of
"A Bronx Tale," Palminteri branched out to produce a
play in L.A. called "Unorganized Crime" about—well,
And in 2015, Palminteri stars in the film "Legend,"
playing the Philadelphia mobster Angelo Bruno.
Obviously, there is a bigger issue here than Chazz's
one-trick-pony show: institutionalized stereotyping of
Italian Americans in popular culture — a "Jim Crow"
attitude in the arts, if you will. But it certainly makes it
harder to fight Hollywood bigotry when actors like
Palminteri enable the bigots.
Palminteri may have known a mobster in the Bronx but do you
know who else also grew up in the Bronx? Academy
Award-winning actress Anne Bancroft (born Anna Italiano);
novelist Dom DeLillo; painter Ralph Fasanella; Len Riggio,
the CEO of Barnes and Noble Bookstores (yes, Italian
Americans can read); and, most profoundly, the Piccirilli
brothers — no, not a criminal gang, but a family of
artisans who designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
D.C. Analyze that!
"The saddest thing in the world is wasted talent," says
Lorenzo the bus driver to his son in "A Bronx Tale."
Alas, it is advice that many Italian American actors still
fail to grasp even in 2015.
Bill Dal Cerro is National President of the Italic Institute
of America in Floral Park, New York.