When mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) returns to TV on Sunday for the third season of HBO's "The Sopranos," he will be carrying on a long Hollywood tradition: the Italian American as gangster.
A new five-year study conducted by the Italic Studies Institute maintains that this has been the predominant image of Italian Americans in films for more than 70 years.
The institute, based in Floral Park, N.Y., found that 40% of the 1,220 films produced in the United States since 1928 that featured Italian American themes depicted Italian Americans as gangsters.
"Italian stereotypes have become ingrained in the American psyche," said Bill Dal Cerro, (who) authored the study for the institute. "We've got this albatross around our necks, and the media keeps pounding away at it."
The report found that of the 487 films in which Italian Americans have been portayed as gangsters, only 58 of those films were based on real-life characters like Al Capone ("The Untouchables") and Frank Costello ("Tales of Manhattan"). The other 429 gangster films were based on fictional mobsters like Vito Corleone in "The Godfather."
Dal Cerro said: "Nine out of 10 gangsters in the movies are fake...They need a villain, so bring in the Italian."
The report found that other film portrayals of Italian Americans are often negative, even when they're not being depicted as gangsters.
"Results of the research reveal a consistently negative attitude toward Italian Americans and Italian culture in general (69%)," the report said. "Images of Italians as violent criminals predominate (40%), followed by portrayals of boors, buffons, bigots and bimbos (29%), as compared to images of Italians as positive, heroic or complex roles (31%)."
According to the report: "The figures clearly indicate an entrenched, institutionalized bias against Americans of Italian descent in the entertainment industry. The diversity of the Italian American experience has been obscured through an obsession with negative, one-dimensional stereotypes, equating Italian culture with criminality."
Back to the home page