Italic Institute of America

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE For more information,
            1 February 2002 contact Rosario Iaconis
fax 516-488-4889


First Amendment Nixed

New York: A satirical cartoon created by the Italic Institute of America, that pokes fun at famous Italian American actors and filmmakers, was rejected as an advertisement in Weekly Variety, Hollywood's show-business bible. The cartoon is now being viewed across the country via the Internet.

Titled The Last Sucker (or "Leonardo Dines with the Goombahs"), the cartoon recreates Leonardo Da Vinci's famous painting, The Last Supper. In place of Jesus, Leonardo himself sits at the head of the banquet table. After Da Vinci declares that "all" of his disciples will betray Italian culture, his twelve dinner companions deny their responsibility in creating derogatory film and television images of their ethnic community. VIEW THE CARTOON AT OUR WEBSITE ( "NEWS FLASH".

Leonardo's disciples include caricatures of Dan Castellaneta (the voice of TV's Homer Simpson); singer Jerry Vale (hawking his CD "Mob Hits"); the late Godfather author Mario Puzo; filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola; HBO's The Sopranos star James Gandolfini and the show's creator, David Chase (nee DeCesare); and actors Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Danny Aiello and Mira Sorvino (a star of racist movie Summer of Sam and the forthcoming female mobster comedy Wisegirls).

"We've obviously hit the glass ceiling in the First Amendment says John Mancini, Chairman of the Institute. "The message is very clear: It's okay to stereotype an entire group of Americans, but it's not okay for those same Americans to fight back, even in a light-hearted way. To put it in layman's terms: Hollywood big shots can dish it out, but they can't take it. Yet, these are the same people who constantly trumpet the First Amendment. When Americans of Italian origin complained that there was too much negative media, we were told that we were 'too sensitive'. When we complained that it's been going on for 30 years, we were told to face reality, that Italian American crime families still exist. When we pointed out that the media shaped people's perceptions, we were told that the American public knows the difference between fantasy and reality, even though research studies show otherwise. Now they expect us to believe this propaganda is 'art'. The bottom line is that Italic defamation is a profit center in Hollywood."

"The 'stars' in the cartoon have turned Italian culture into a laughingstock and have seriously eroded our political equality in America," says Anthony Cardillo, Chairman of the Institute's Advisory Council. "One Italian American U.S. presidential contender (Mario Cuomo) and four vice presidential contenders (John Pastore, Peter Rodino, Joseph Alioto, Geraldine Ferraro) have been adversely affected by media images of our culture over the years. Hollywood 'artists' have used their stature to weave mobster and moron images into the very fabric of our heritage.

Cardillo lists the following examples: "Singer Jerry Vale promotes beautiful Italian songs by equating them with violent movies. Dan Castellaneta allows his cartoon character, Homer Simpson, to comment on the stupidity of Italians. Francis Ford Coppola paints the Italian immigrant experience as a mob epic. And David Chase turns Italian mothers into murderers. What kind of messages are being sent out to our fellow Americans, especially our own children, regarding Italian culture?"

Unlike African Americans like Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey, Hispanic Americans like Edward James Olmos and Jewish Americans like Steven Spielberg, who contribute their own time and money toward their respective communities, John Mancini notes that the Italian Americans in the cartoon simply "take the money and run". Asks Mancini, "What, exactly, is their definition of ethnic pride? We think it's a legitimate question. Humor is one way of asking it. What have they contributed financially to the culture that bore them? Are there Coppola Italian study programs, any Scorsese university chairs in Italian civilization, any Mario Puzo cultural centers?"

Hollywood and the New York Holocaust

Rosario Iaconis, Director of the Institute's Italic Way Magazine, cites the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York as a perfect example of how Hollywood fantasy has overtaken reality.

"Italian Americans are Americans first, without question," he says. "That point was brought home powerfully during the World Trade Center tragedy. Consider the numerous Americans of Italian descent who immediately assumed leadership positions: Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York; Peter Vallone Sr, President of the New York City Council; Richard Grasso, head of the New York Stock Exchange; Peter Ganci, the Deputy Fire Chief who lost his life; as well as the hundreds of other police officers, firefighters and World Trade Center employees who performed individual acts of heroism. Not to mention Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, a voice of calm and reason during the anthrax scare; as well as retired, four-star general Anthony Zinni, the current peace negotiator in the Middle East. These people are reality, not fantasy. They carry the true mantle of Italian culture."

Iaconis continues, "Look at movies and television shows, however, and what you see is the complete opposite: people with vowels at the end of their names who are boors, buffoons, bigots, bimbos or criminals--in short, dysfunctional Americans. The gap between our reality and Hollywood's fantasy is as wide as the Grand Canyon--a gap which widens with each new mobster movie. Hollywood's obsession with mobster mythology has permeated our culture by ignoring the likes of Osama bin Laden, the boss of all international crime bosses. Indeed, while the goons of al Qaeda were plotting the September 11th massacre, Tinseltown continued to perpetuate the Big Lie about Italian Americans. Even now, in the midst of anti-ethnic profiling, movies and series featuring Italic people as bad Americans are being churned out."

Instead of depicting the real-life "monsters in our midst," notes Iaconis, "the entertainment industry puts all of its advertising resources behind hoary stereotypes of Italian Americans. HBO, for example, heavily promotes The Sopranos, a program which perpetuates the amoral, blood-thirsty image of Italians first popularized by so-called 'yellow journalists' over 100 years ago."

"Hollywood and the media," says Iaconis, "with the paid collaboration of some Italian American celebrities, continue to flood the American market with films, TV shows, books and news programs equating Italian culture with criminality. Hollywood's incessant smear campaign would have brought a smile to Senator Joe McCarthy's lips."

Bill Dal Cerro, the group's Midwest spokesman, says that the demonization of Italian culture is especially painful because so many Italian American actors and filmmakers willingly participate in it. There are three main reasons they do so, he notes: "Greed, low self-esteem or a lack of knowledge about their heritage. Instead of challenging the film industry, these actors cater to it. So much for playing tough guys." Concludes Dal Cerro, "If Hollywood wants to have its own version of Jim Crow laws--i.e., limiting Italian Americans to negative roles--that's one thing. But, our own people shouldn't be assisting such bigotry. That only deepens the defamation. It turns popular art into popular prejudice."

NOTE: After the September 11th bombings, Hollywood admirably pulled films portraying Arabs as terrorists. Films which stigmatize Italians as criminals, however, continue to be released and shown unabated: Badfellas, Corky Romano, Dinner Rush, Heist, Knockaround Guys, Mulholland Drive, Snipes. In 2002, six more are scheduled for release: This Thing of Ours, Wannabes, Big Trouble, Wisegirls, Analyze That, and The Road to Perdition.


Copies of The Last Sucker cartoon, illustrated by James Bellora, are available by visiting the Institute's website ( Click on "NEWS FLASH," then scroll to the item marked "The Last Sucker"


Founded in New York in 1987, the Italic Institute of America is a non-profit, educational organization that promotes an appreciation of the Italian heritage through books, videos, a national magazine, The Italic Way, and a free children's language and culture program called AURORA (which means "first light" in Italian).


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