This article discusses the way in which Italian-Americans have been portrayed in film within the larger context of minority representation in media. It begins with a statement regarding the announcement made prior to the first showing on television of the first two Godfather films. The announcement essentially claimed that no particular ethnicity was being depicted despite the fact that the film was taking place (initially) in Sicily, the family is Sicilian, they all have Italian names, and they were speaking in Italian.
The general representation of Italians was simply that of criminals involved in organized crime through their families. The disclaimer could have been seen as trying to avoid the kind of media influence the film might have, or simply called attention to it. In either case, it becomes very clear how extensive the effects media can have on the mind and on the belief systems of people, especially regarding minorities.
Immigrant films began in the early 1900’s often focused around the symbolic Italian as the minority. “Colored” minorities were met with a very different representation than the mildly funny representations of white minorities, but eventually this changed, and the representations were not nearly as harmless as they had once been.
The crime genre started to get big around the Great Depression. Essentially, in their pursuit of the American Dream, Italian-Americans and Chinese Americans came to be the front runners in media representations.The American Dream then quickly became twisted into a search for power and money. Greed and deception, combined with crime and violence became a center for the stereotypes, particularly of Italian-Americans. It seemed as though everyone Italian had a tie to organized crime. Ultimately, who became known as victims, and who were the victimizers depended on the time during which they were being depicted.