General Question

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Can anyone think of a movie or show that portrays Italian Americans positively?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (5674points) May 6th, 2016

My partner and I are talking about it and are having a hard time thinking of any. Mafia and organized crime films don’t count!

I tried to say A Bronx Tale and Moonstruck, but he disagrees. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them.

Any thoughts?

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40 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

The 1993 Super Mario Bros. Film.

CWOTUS's avatar

How about Unbroken? Though if he can summarily reject Moonstruck, then I’m sure that he’ll find some similarly silly reason to strike a movie about an Olympic athlete who heroically survives a WWII Japanese prison experience, too.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Everybody Loves Raymond

Jeruba's avatar

There are plenty of movies with Italian-American characters. It’s a tribute to their normality that they don’t stand out as types in some remarkably positive or negative way.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that we treated every character as portraying an entire race or ethnicity or region or sex in a certain way. I’ll be glad when we can get back to just having characters and not symbols. If I were a character in a story, I wouldn’t represent anybody.

Pachy's avatar

“Marty,” a movie about a sweet and kind but lonely and insecure Italian-American man, has little to do with ethnicity. It is about the human condition.

Jaxk's avatar

I thought Raging Bull, the story of Jake LaMotta was fairly positive. Not to mention the whole Rocky series.

Seek's avatar

Off the top of my head?

Any movie or show that stars any of these people as the protagonist and isn’t a mafia or organized crime film.

It is a long list.

Stinley's avatar

Mermaids? I loved that film

longgone's avatar

Rizzoli and Isles doesn’t seem to be portraying the Italian heritage negatively, as far as I’ve seen.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I saw Moonstruck for the first time the other day. I was amazed at Cher’s acting!

I kind of find it sad that portraying Italian families they way the do in “Moonstruck” is seen as a negative.

Buttonstc's avatar

The film “Lorenzo’s Oil” was based upon the true story of Augusto and Michaela Odone’s efforts, against all the odds, to find something to help their critically ill son with an extremely rare disorder.

There’s more info in the link below.


Kardamom's avatar

Rocky. He was the hero.

JLeslie's avatar

Some of what came to my mind has already been named above. Also, people like Joy Behar (if you consider her normal and positive lol) who is herself on The View.

George Costanza on Seinfeld.

Tony and his daughter on Who’s the Boss

Tony on Taxi.

The movie My Cousin Vinny. Although, maybe that’s mixed in opinion like Moonstruck.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@JLeslie re: My cousin Vinnie…right? So, Italian families acting all Italian is a negative thing? For that reason I don’t quite understand the question now.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s kind of like portraying black people acting all black is a negative….and why would anyone think that? What is the behavior being compared to? White people?

Seek's avatar

My Cousin Vinny is one of my favourite silly-but-harmless movies.

Are the characters stereotypical? Yes. Do they remind me of most of my neighbors and half the people at my grandmother’s church while I was a kid living on Staten Island? Abso-fornicating-lutely. Does the fact that there are a few jokes made with regards to the stereotype of the NY/NJ Italian change the fact that it’s a story about a guy doing everything he can against all odds to help clear his innocent family member’s name? Not a bit.

Also, grits are disgusting. That’s just empirical fact.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III What makes it iffy with My Cousin Vinny is it’s the “lower class” representation of how Italians talk and act. The movie is funny and endearing. In the end these cousins who talk with Joisey accents, and fail to dress conservatively when expected, wind up having the very knowledge and deductive reasoning to prove the dependent is innocent.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Judge Judy talks like an Italian. And she’s Jewish. And she’s from New York.

Seek's avatar

True story: In my last office job there was a client who lived on Staten Island. All of the other reps warned me about him and said how much of an asshole he was. I pulled up his file and saw his address. It was about three blocks from my old house. I told them straight up, he’s a New York Italian and you guys just don’t speak the language.

Lo and behold he got transferred to me every time he called and ended up being a really great customer all the way up until the company shut down.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Judge Judy talks like a New Yorker. Why do you think the New Yorkers sound like that? Jews and Italians have been there for 3+ generations. They are the foundation of the NYC accent.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I know all of that @JLeslie. I wasn’t looking for an explanation. My point was, Judge Judy, someone who can be highly respected, talks like an Italian. Apparently that’s a negative thing according to the OP’s partner, and I don’t know why. That’s the point I’m getting at.

Well, there’s one answer. Judge Judy is a show that portrays an Italian American in a positive light, (even though I don’t think she’s actually Italian.)

JLeslie's avatar

She doesn’t talk like “that” type of Italian. She has a NY accent, but her grammar and vocabulary are very good. I think the Italians people make fun of say things like “yous guys” and “yutes” and are short and stocky looking men, and the women have big hair, heavy make-up, and wear tight clothing, etc.

Seek's avatar

“Youse guys” is a perfectly acceptable stand-in for our lack of a second person plural pronoun.

Buttonstc's avatar

OK, I have resisted commenting about the Judge Judy error, but as someone who is from the area where a NYC accent is spoken, I just have to set the record straight. And I’m not making a value judgement, just a simple observation.

Judge Judy speaks exactly like what she is; a Jewish person born and raised in New York.

An Italian NYC speech pattern is not the same as a Jewish NYC speech pattern. Of course there are similarities with SOME words but there are also distinct differences.

It’s one of those “recognize it when you hear it” types of things.

But just for a quick comparison for illustration (and this is totally regardless if you ever knew their last names ) nobody hearing Gilbert Gottfried (quintessential NYC) would ever think that’s an Italian guy talking. Likewise, nobody hearing James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) woukd ever think he’s Jewish.

Both speak NYCITY-ese but clear differences.

Judge Judy is quintessential NYC Jewish born and bred and speaks like it. How do I know this? Because nobody has EVER assumed that I’m Italian. I speak quite a bit like she does and people just assume I’m Jewish all the time.

I’m not, but I certainly don’t mind it. I was born and raised on Long Island (which is fast becoming the last repository of authentic NYC speak, as everybody in NY now aspires to sound more like the upper Eastside version of a very proper George Plimpton.)

Also, my brother and sister both married NY/LI Italians so I definitely know from Italian. It’s not identical to Jewish. If you’ve been around both for a good portion of your life, you recognize either when you hear it.

Not to overuse a stereotype here, but my nephew chooses to call HIMSELF “Vinny the Guido” and he sounds EXACTLY like it. We didn’t choose this nickname for him. He chose it himself and since he’s now an adult in his 30s, theres not a whole lot we can do about it.

But, anyhow, trust me on this, Judge Judy sounds NOTHING like him at all.

Do you remember the terrific Mike Myers SNL sketch where he impersonates his MIL on a faux talk show called “Coffee Talk” and pronounced Cawfee Tawk? That is quintessential NYC/LI. And nobody assumes that she’s Italian. Likewise, Barbra Streisand. People are not assuming she’s Italian from the way that she speaks.

There’s a fairly lengthy detailed explication of all this complete with vowel patterns and diphthongs explanation from a professor who has studied these speech patterns in detail on Wikipedia illustrating the differences but I’m not going to post it here. If you need proof of what I’ve just outlined you can hunt it up. But be prepared for some very dry reading.

But I’m certainly willing to forgive someone from Kansas for not being up on the nuances between NYC Italian and NYC Jewish.

Seek's avatar

That’s how Coffee Talk is pronounced, dammit!
My kid makes fun of me for it. haha

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Buttonstc I understand all that, and I said I didn’t think she was Italian. And you’re right. I could easily confuse whether the person is talking with just a Brooklyn accent or an Italian accent.
I can tell the difference between a Kansas accent, an Oklahoma accent and a Texas accent, though.

I guess my question is, why does the OP’s partner seem to find that all movies or shows portray Italian American’s negatively? Would they perceive Judge Judy in a negative light because she displays the cultural ways of the a Jew who was raised in Brooklyn ? Why would that be? What does that person see that seems negative?

Buttonstc's avatar

I have absolutely no idea why the Op’s partner feels as he does. People have all kinds of attitudes about people different from them and rarely are they accurate. Maybe watching too many Godfather movies? I don’t know.


I never realized that you were that Noo Yawkish :)

Your son would likely find my nephew’s speech endlessly entertaining cuz he’s twice as Laawwng Islandish as I am. He’s lived there all his life and never anywhere else.

Going to college in upstate NY and living in Philly for around 20 years served to tame my accent down a bit but people still pick up on it, particularly here in the Midwest.

While still in college, I always thought of it as just a Lawng Island kind of thing because thats how all of us there talk, but then I spent a number of years living and teaching in Bklyn. and realized that it encompassed the five boroughs and Northern Jersey as well.

The first time I heard that Mike Myers sketch I split my sides laughing (and even felt a bit nostalgic) He had it down so perfectly. And then when I saw an interview with his MIL I realized just how perfectly he had captured her.

And, yes, you’re certainly right. That is exactly how Cawffee Tawlk SHOULD be pronounced, dammit :)

Seek's avatar

I’ve been in Florida most of my life but some bits of the accent never left me, and since it’s my mother tongue it comes back anytime I hear it.

Buttonstc's avatar

Yup. Same here.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, I wasn’t asking you to answer the question @Buttonstc! It was just a general wondering, hoping the OP would come back to clarify.

JLeslie's avatar

When I lived in TN a friend told me I talk like a Jew. The way I organize my sentences. I realized it somewhat had to do with the fact that I clarify what I mean. Like if I use a pronoun and I realize by the end of the sentence you might not know which he or she I was referring too. Other patterns too.

I’m staying in a very Jewish community right now. I bet over 80% Jewish in the 400 houses here, and probably at least half the Jews are from NY. It feels very Jewish. How they talk, think, the food, everything.

There are some Italians here too, and that also feels very familiar. Not exactly the same, but familiar. The Italians do know a lot of Yiddish usually so that adds some kinship.

NYC has a huge Ashkenazi Jewish population so the dialect stuck. Back in the day 50% of white people in NYC were Jewish. I only mention race, because the races were somewhat segregated. Not purposefully, but groups tended to cluster.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Wow! I should have checked back sooner. Thanks for all the interesting responses, everyone—too many to respond to individually.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh good! I have a question…what is it about Italian portrayals that your friend found negative?

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

My boyfriend is Italian American (as am I but less passionately) and here are a few of his pet peeves off the top of my head:

- Participating in any sort of organized crime—mafioso, hitman, bookie, etc.

- Being dishonest or having a shifty business (Selling things that “fell off the back of a truck”, working in “sanitation” but not really, etc.)

- Acting impulsively or being a hothead

- Being willfully ignorant and provincial in thought, a “meathead” as some would say

- Acting like someone from Jersey Shore, (“Gym, tan, laundry”, generally acting like a d-bag)

- Having greasy hair or using a lot of hair gel

- Being overly superstitious and believing in hexes, curses, “evil eye” and the like

- Abusing your partner or spouse (Guy acting like a hot head and hitting wife, wife hitting husband with a frying pan/dough roller, etc.)

- Being overweight

- Acting like a pervert toward women and having a really high sex drive

- Being loud and obnoxious

Seek's avatar

So, any movie that includes Italian people that doesn’t say “OMG LOOK AT THESE STEREOTYPICAL ITALIANS!”

LeavesNoTrace's avatar


Yes, pretty much!

Dutchess_III's avatar

But how are we gonna know they’re Italian?

JLeslie's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace Unfortunately, there are Italians who have some or all of those characteristics. Lol. Some are funny. Like the curses and hexes. When I’m pissed off at someone I sometimes jokingly ask my Italian or Hungarian girlfriend to get their aunt to put a curse on the person. Sophia on Golden Girls put a curse once and a while. It was funny.

Most Italians I know are hotheaded. Same with Jews for that matter.

I don’t think of Italians as being abusive. A little macho sometimes some of them maybe, but not outright physically abusive. Do movies show them as abusive?

You forgot food. Obsessed with food. Jews and Italians have that in common. Go to a Jewish wedding they talk about the food, go to an Irish wedding they talk about the liquor. See, Italians don’t get stuck with that alcoholic label, the Irish get that.

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