4. STEREOTYPES BEGET STEREOTYPES
by Linda Messina
There seems to be confusion among some Italian Americans regarding stereotypical entertainment.
ATTENTION Italian Americans, either you are PRO stereotypes, or
You CAN NOT DEFEND these productions, (not even in the name of ART), and CONDEMN the resulting
stereotypical mind set that spreads throughout the world.
Coraggio i miei amici ! Choose a side, you can't be on both teams!
In a NY Times (Jan. 13, 2008) article, "Refusing to Let the Mob Hijack What It Means to Be
Italian", producer Rosanne De Luca Braun said: DON"T get her wrong: she
loves “The Godfather.” Ditto, “The Sopranos". ****
But she has devoted much of the last seven years to exploring why certain Italian-American stereotypes especially
the gun-toting, cannoli-loving mobster — loom so large on screen,
and in the national psyche.
That is simple: Stereotypes beget stereotypes.
The Godfather beget Sopranos,
Sopranos beget Mafia Wives, and they all beget Shark Tales and Nicky Deuce
(It almost sounds like she is apologizing to her fellow Soprano and Godfather fans, to sell more tickets
to her documentary.)
Ms. Braun wanted to work on this project because she couldn't find enough non mobster films for a small
festival...maybe she didn't look hard enough...
Besides, there would be hundreds more films, plays, and TV shows, if the producers could raise
the money, but unfortunately most of the financing goes to the stereotypical garbage.
It will be interesting to hear what Scorsese and Turturo have to say on the subject, since they both became
millionaires from glamorizing mobsters. If they don't like dealing with ethnic stereotyping, they should
stop promoting those stereotypes.
Dominic Chianese, a Soprano cast member is invited to the premier of "Refusing to Let the
Mob Hijack What It Means to Be Italian". How contradictory! He is one of the perpetrators of the"Hijack".
****This quote was not on the NIAF web page in 2005, when she was trying to raise money for the
5. ORDER SONS OF ITALY
The CSJ was founded in 1979 to fight the stereotyping of Italian Americans by the entertainment, advertising
and news industries. It also collaborates with other groups to ensure that people of all races, religions and cultures are
treated with dignity and respect.
How to Fight Stereotyping
by Bill Dal Cerro
THE THREE R's)
STEP 1: REVIEW
- If you see an offensive ad, film, sitcom, etc., jot down a complete, objective statement of facts: e.g.,
contents, date and time, where it was shown or broadcast.
- Find out who is the person responsible. If an ad, the head of the company. If a TV show, the head of the
network. If a movie, the head of the studio. Get his or her title, address, and telephone number.
STEP 2: RESPOND
- WRITE a short, simple letter stating your objections to what you saw or heard to the person in charge. Phone
calls or emails should be used only as follow-up methods. And ALWAYS photocopy your letters, sending a copy of each to the
- The Public Relations Department of the studio, radio station, etc.
- Letters to the Editor of your local largest daily and/or weekly newspaper.
- The Anti-Defamation representative in your local area (usually your largest local Italian American club or
- The NIAF Media Institute (1860,19th St., NW Washington, DC 20009.)
own file, for future reference.
- If or when you do receive a response, send copies to your local Anti-Defamation group and the NIAF Media
Institute. They can then advise you on how to evaluate a proper response, either from you or from them.
STEP 3: READ
- Communicate with other Italian American activists via email or faxes to support other media offences throughout
- Read as much as you can about Italian/Italian American culture. You can use these facts in your anti-defamation
efforts. Send for the NIAF's free study, Italian Americans in U.S. History and Culture, a large (9X12) stamped ($1.65)
self-addressed envelope to: NIAF FACT SHEETS, 1860 19th St., NW Washington, DC 20009).
- IMPORTANT NOTE: If you see a POSITIVE ad, film, etc. send a complimentary letter pronto. This is a powerful
way of circumventing future negatives because it encourages the person or persons to capitalize on the good vibes of being
praised. Try it. It works!
THE REAL MAFIA WARS
On 23 May 1992, Italian magistrate, Giovanni Falcone, Sicily's most distinguished anti-Mafia crusader,
was murdered, when his car was blown up by a bomb planted beneath the road leading to Palermo's airport.
Falcone was killed
with his wife Francesca Morvillo (also a magistrate) and three policemen: near Capaci on the motorway between Palermo International
Airport and the city.
Paolo Borsellino was an Italian anti-Mafia magistrate who was killed by a Mafia
car bomb in Palermo, on July 19, 1992 less than two months after his friend Giovanni Falcone had been killed by
Falcone & Borsellino were named as heroes of the last 60 years in the November 13, 2006 issue of
The Palermo airport now bears the names of Falcone & Borsellino
So you think the MOB is Glamorous - the real Heroes
23 maggio 1992
It has been over 15 years since Sicily's most distinguished anti-Mafia crusader was murdered when his car and escort
were blown up by a bomb planted beneath the road leading to Palermo's airport. Sadly, several of those who conspired to assassinate
him were recently released from prison (in March 2002) in return for having cooperated as "pentiti" by turning state's evidence
to convict other Mafiosi. Prominent among them is the infamous Santino "Little Saint" De Matteo of Altofonte. Yet, Falcone's
memory lives, and the Palermo airport now bears his name and that of fellow magistrate Paolo Borsellino, also a victim of
Born in Palermo in 1939, Giovanni Falcone spent part of his youth in the Magione district which suffered extensive
destruction during the Allied aerial attacks of 1943. He was the son of Arturo Falcone, director of a provincial chemical
laboratory, and Luisa Bentivegna. After a classical education, Giovanni studied law following a brief period of study at Livorno's
naval academy. Graduating in 1961, he began to practice law before being appointed a judge in 1964. In Italy, judges are appointed,
never elected, based on a series of examinations. Falcone eventually gravitated toward penal law after serving as a district
magistrate in Sicily at Lentini, Trapani and elsewhere. It was work that he found challenging but also rewarding.
By the 1970s, he was dealing with cases involving organised crime. Falcone's work was groundbreaking for several
reasons. He began to dissolve the aura of mystique and myths surrounding the structure and culture of the Mafia, and by the
1980s, following years of bloodshed (and the murders of police officers and judges), he was making headway in this pursuit.
It was as much a sociological task as a juridical one. Falcone was also an innovator in that he persuaded several important
Mafiosi, most notably Tomasso Buscetta, to talk about the Mafia and provide useful information about its activities. Cooperation
with American authorities was also important, since the Mafia is an international organisation. Before Falcone's efforts,
little progress had been made in prosecuting Sicilian Mafiosi who moved about in the United States, particularly in the New
York area, without being traced by Italian authorities or identified by American ones. Later, the success of the "Pizza Connection"
trial in the United States owed much to Falcone's efforts in Italy.
The 1980s became the "Years of Lead" in Palermo as one judge or law-enforcement officer after another was gunned
down or blown to pieces by the Mafia --Cesare Terranova, Rocco Chinnici, Emanuele Basile and Giuseppe Montana, to name just
a few. A handful of prominent Palermitan politicians, including Salvatore Lima (an aging ex-mayor who had sold building construction
permits to gangsters only to be murdered by the organisation he had supported), bridled at the prospect of their own alleged
or implicit ties to organised crime being alluded to by Falcone's frequent comments to the press, which they characterised
as "overzealous." Mayor Leoluca Orlando, a grandstander who had garnered praise as an outspoken "opponent" of the Mafia, was
known to make accusations of his own; in the late 1990s he invoked Falcone's name when it was politically convenient to do
Few Sicilians shared the more eccentric opinions of either Orlando or Lima. Clearly, however, there were magistrates
and politicians, in Milan and Rome as well as Palermo, who took offence to Falcone's findings, perhaps afraid that these might
hit too close to home. In 1988, Italy's highest court controversially ruled, in a particular case, against allowing any juridical
procedures which presupposed a vertically organised structure of the Mafia at a national level (as opposed to a localised
organisation), and this made further prosecutions difficult for the next few years. The move seemed contradictory in a nation
that had enacted legislation against "criminality of the Mafia type," inspiring the practical application of the RICO statute
in the United States. (The high court later rescinded on this point.) All the while, the intrepid and outspoken Rudolph Giuliani,
then federal southern district judge for New York (and Falcone's American counterpart in almost every sense), applauded Falcone's
efforts, which were echoed by the FBI's Louis Freeh, another American jurist of Italian ancestry.
In 1986 and 1987, Falcone and others presided over the "Maxi Trial" of 475 alleged Mafiosi in Palermo. The case,
a parallel to the Pizza Connection trial, drew international attention by bringing the Mafia out into the open, but sadly,
most of the 338 criminals convicted served little more than token sentences before being released under Italy's lax penal
code, with its extremely high burden of proof. It did, however, result in the conviction of Mafia kingpin Michele Greco and,
eventually, Salvatore Riina, Greco's successor from Corleone.
The Mafia's shadow, whether in the form of the drug trade, money laundering, political corruption (payoffs and
kickbacks) or the pizzo (protection money), permeates every facet of the Sicilian economy, and statistically the problem is far worse in Palermo than in Catania. Giovanni Falcone knew this, and so do most
Sicilians. Apart from cases of localised interest, Falcone dealt with important narcotics cases, then the Mafia's stock and
For all the press attention he was receiving, Falcone was becoming a lone crusader as the political establishment,
having much to hide, now proved uncooperative, but the common folk regarded the Palermitan as a folk hero. Meanwhile, the
Mafia was contemplating Falcone's murder, and actually attempted it several times. Despite languishing government support,
Falcone and his staff continued their work in the Anti-Mafia Pool headquartered in Rome. This entailed a national position
for Falcone as Italy's main prosecutor for Mafia cases, and extensive travel between Rome and Palermo.
Constructed in a climate of construction kickbacks, bribery and blatant Mafia opportunism, the Palermo airport,
surrounded by steep cliffs, is quite distant from the city, but Falcone's speeding police escort could make the trip in twenty
minutes. Along the autostrada on 23 May 1992, near the town of Capaci, Falcone's car was exploded by a mass of plastic explosive
placed in a small underpass. Vehicles were destroyed, and so was a segment of road. Falcone's wife, Francesca Morvilio, also
a magistrate, was killed with him and the members of his escort, police officers Rocco Di Cillo, Vito Schifani and Antonio
Montinaro. Back in Palermo, the assassins were already plotting the murder of Paolo Borsellino, the judge who worked with
Several important Mafiosi were arrested in Sicily in the years following, and the last decade has seen a marked
reduction in Mafia-related crime. Falcone may not have defeated the organisation, which still thrives today (complete with
websites published by the children of convicted Mafiosi), but he certainly hindered its growth. In the end, one can ask little
more of a single courageous hero.
Defamation and discrimination of Italian
Americans are serious problems that cannot go on without some action to bring it to a halt, but before any action can be taken
we must have our community recognize what others have seen for many years. continue reading