As HBO debuts the season premiere of "The Sopranos," Italian-American groups are asking media executives to try a little reality TV programming Ė at least where their image is concerned.
"The Sopranos" is a series depicting the drama of a modern-day Mafia family living in New Jersey. But for many Italian Americans, the show is anything but true to life.
"Our research clearly proves that programs like "The Sopranos," which present Italian Americans as undereducated people who are either criminals or in blue-collar jobs, bear no resemblance to the average Italian American, who is a law-abiding citizen working in a white-collar position," said Frank J. Guarini, chairman of the National Italian American Foundation.
The foundation, an advocacy group for an estimated 20 million Americans of Italian descent, said it researched Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files and found that Italian Americans have constituted only 5.6 percent of the 458 fugitives on the FBIís Most Wanted List over the past 50 years. Italian Americans account for approximately 7 percent of the U.S. population.
Meanwhile, the Italic Studies Institute based in Floral Park, N.Y., said Italian gang members have never numbered more than 5,000, which is fewer than 0.03% of the overall Italian- American community.
John Mancini, chairman of the Italic institute, said movies have wrapped Italian culture Ė which is viewed as romantic - around crime to sell more tickets or draw in more viewers. But he feels Italian Americans have paid an unacceptable price.
"All media in its own way is a forum for propaganda and image making," said Mancini, who said his group has 1,200 members nationwide. "That should be clear to everyone. Everything conveys a message subliminal or outright. We feel these messages have an effect on people - what we call a lingering image . . . What they have done, they have imbued all the characters with Italian-American culture. You donít see that with other gangsters. They do it because that is what sells. You just donít see movies about Chinese gangsters."
The Italic Studies Institute recently completed a five-year study (1996-2001) that documents and tracks the Italian-American gangster stereotype in Hollywood films.
The institute, which reviewed 1,220 of the Italian-related American-made movies made since 1928, found that 40 percent of them depicted Italian Americans as gangsters.
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