Another Mob Movie?
“We’re excited to start casting on our next Cincinnati, OH feature movie, THE WISE GUYS! Looking for lots of different extras, but especially anybody who is of Italian descent or who looks like they could be a NY mobster in the 1950s. All paid, please send photo, contact, and sizes to email@example.com.
-D. Lynn Myers Casting
We had just finished our unit on Mafia stereotypes in Italian American culture class when I got this notification on my phone from the Cincinnati Enquirer. It seemed incredibly ironic that, just as I had left a class trying to combat those stereotypes, I stepped back into a harsh reality where they still existed, hitting me straight in the face.
The movie, The Wise Guys, which began filming in Cincinnati this winter, is set to star Robert De Niro. A period piece following the story of Vito Genovese and Frank Costello, two Italian American Mafia dons, the film is set to rival other movies in its category. Robert De Niro is set to play both roles, while two separate actresses, Kathrine Narducci and Debra Messing, will play his wives.
Two roles. Two mobsters. Two Italian Americans. One Italian American actor.
Looking back on De Niro’s career, he has been primarily praised for his roles in Mafia films. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, he became famous for his “uncompromising portrayals of violent and abrasive characters.” And he has done well with this. He won an Oscar for best supporting actor in The Godfather, Part II, as well as for his role as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. He directed his first film, A Bronx Tale, a Mafia movie set in the 1960s, in 1993. He has even been cast in recent mob films such as The Irishman, being aged in reverse to appear younger.
Nearly every role De Niro has taken on has been a mobster, a criminal, or an overly emotional and unstable individual. Nearly all have had Italian last names. The Wise Guys is no exception. In fact, it is doubled, as he is playing not one, but two main characters in the mob film.
It is films like these that reinforce stereotypes. The Wise Guys called upon people of Italian descent to actively do this, to act as promoters for an untrue belief. We, as a society, need to separate these two groups of people. Italian Americans are not all mobsters. Not all mobsters are even Italian American.
Thus, as I sat there after class, reading the casting call in shock, two solutions came to mind. Either the film industry needs to stop exhausting the trope of Mafia films and move on, or they need to be more diverse in their interpretation of mob crime.