In Hollywood, It's Still OK To Disparage Italian-Americans
Investor's Business Daily, February 27, 2014
Are "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "American Hustle" bad for American capitalism? As Sarah Palin might say, "You betcha!"
By focusing on a cadre of Wall Street reprobates and venal politicians — in various stages of cocaine-fueled debauchery — directors Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell perpetuate Hollywood's antipathy to the marketplace.
Indeed, Central Casting's rogues gallery wouldn't be complete without CEOs, Christians or white-bread members of the Silent Majority. But Scorsese and Russell had to do some fancy cinematic footwork with Jordan Belfort and Irving Rosenfeld, the main characters of each film. Enter Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale.
Writing in Haaretz, Israeli journalist Malina Saval revealed how "by downplaying the Jewishness of their scumbag heroes as much as possible, directors Scorsese and Russell have done us a favor."
According to the Jewish Journal's Rob Eshman, Scorsese studiously avoided Belfort's Judaic roots in "The Wolf of Wall Street": "To do otherwise," he says, "might give the movie a whiff of anti-Semitic caricature. Scorsese feels much safer depicting the Italian-ness of his violent mobsters than the Jewishness of his greedy con men."
As a society, we can be thankful that both auteurs chose to keep anti-Semitism at bay. However, the ethnic sensitivity on full display in each of these Oscar-nominated films is entirely absent when the villains sport surnames ending in a vowel.
And they're easier to bash than businessmen.
Forget wild-eyed Islamic terrorists or cutthroat narcotraficantes. Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola firmly established the scions of Italy as Hollywood's most heinous malefactors in "The Godfather."
Spike Lee rose to international fame demonizing Italian Americans as congenital racists, semiliterate brutes or sleazy mafiosi in "Jungle Fever," "Do the Right Thing" and "Summer of Sam."
Margot Robbie, the actress playing Jordan Belfort's second wife, blithely references the Verrazano Bridge as the "guinea gangplank."
Such dialogue is the handiwork of Terence Winter, whose screenplay for "The Wolf of Wall Street" earned the writer an Oscar nod.
Bristling when I confronted him about his history of anti-Italian imagery — during an awards event at St. John's University Law School in 2011 — Winter maintained he wasn't in business "to make Italians look good" — a message Tinseltown has taken to heart.
Even antiquity's Italians, the Romans, take a filmic beating in "Pompeii" — a vulgar, historically inaccurate piece of filmic tripe that turns the promulgators of the Pax Romana into Nazi-like butchers.
But as Horace once advised, Pactum serva: "Keep the faith." Help is on the way in the form of Angelina Jolie.
As the director of "Unbroken," Ms. Jolie will join the Coen brothers in bringing the saga of Louis Zamperini to the silver screen in December. Zamperini is the Italian-American Olympic runner, World War II bombardier and plane crash survivor who endured brutal torture in a Japanese POW camp but never broke.
Move over, John McCain. Step aside, Duke Wayne. Our greatest star-spangled hero is Louis Zamperini: Captain America come to life.
Perhaps Oscar will take notice next year.