Stereotypes can be a widespread occurrence in the industry of film and television. They often highlight perceived characteristics of specific races when it comes to how they speak, act, look like, or even how they react in certain situations. Some familiar stereotypes are smart and strict Asians, kind-to-a-fault Canadians, and on occasion, overly-romantic and sensual Frenchmen.
Similar to other cultures and races, there are also various character or role stereotypes when it comes to the portrayal of Italians and Italian-Americans in media. These stereotypes range from cultural aspects to already convoluted and compounded concepts generated from previous film stereotypes. Here are some of them.
“Italian Culture” in Jersey Shore
Jersey Shore was a television series produced by MTV and for a time, became a pop culture sensation among viewers. People from various cultural and social backgrounds watch the show which featured the “real lives” of a group of friends who are of Italian descent. The episodes of the series detail their everyday lives which included getting a tan, working out at the gym, drinking in bars, and even doing the laundry. They also popularized bouffant hairstyles. However, some Italian-Americans argued that the show only showed their people in a negative light.
In the United States, and arguably, all over the world, Italian cuisine is very well-known, especially because of certain mainstream Italian dishes such as pasta and pizza. Because of this, a lot of television series, movies, and commercials feature Italian people almost always cooking and consuming food. Although there is real truth behind this stereotype, some portrayals went further by boxing Italians’ representation in media, specifically the frequent images of overweight, older women wearing homely aprons and housecoats while preparing food.
Racist and Dangerous Thugs?
The first stereotype was argued to be a misrepresentation while the second one was a -recurring, framed image. In addition to these is the Italian-American stereotype of being dangerous, racist, or bigoted street thugs. Directors and film producers like Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee were called upon and criticized because of their seemingly Italian prejudice in the film. Examples of their movies that portrayed the brutish Italian thug can be viewed in “Django Unchained,” “Summer of Sam,” “Do the Right Thing,” and “Jungle Fever.” Among these, “Summer of Sam” was particularly criticized because there Italian Americans are portrayed as drug addicts or drug dealers, racists, sex fiends, or not very bright individuals.
Mobster and The Godfather
In reality, according to the Italian American News website, statistics reveal that only 0.0025% of Italian Americans in the United States are actually involved in organized crime, but in both film and television, they are portrayed usually as mobsters. This stereotypical concept of Italians in America might be shaped by influential and iconic films like “The Godfather,” “Casino,” “Goodfellas,” and “Donnie Brasco,” in addition to television shows such as “Mob Wives” and “The Sopranos.” Although critically acclaimed in media circles, these film and television series stamped in the public mind the constant connection between Italian Americans and organized crime.