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Why Italian cinema is starting to glamorize the mafia

For almost a century, American filmmakers have glamorized the Mafia, depicting their ranks as so charismatic and quick-witted that you might want to invite them over for dinner.

Audiences saw this most recently in “The Irishman,” which reunites a star cast of the usual suspects – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci – but also in “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

The Mafia’s glamorized sheen in America’s collective conscience might be due to the fact that the Mafia never attained much power in the U.S. Compared with Italy, fewer lives have been lost and fewer businesses destroyed by the organized crime syndicate. Today many see the Mafia as a relic of the past.

Not so in Italy, where mafias remain as powerful and dangerous as ever. Their menace has been reflected in Italian films and television series, which have long cast mobsters in a negative light.

But as someone who studies media depictions of the Mafia, I’ve noticed a shift: Italian films and TV shows have started to glorify criminality, crafting and portraying mafiosos as alluring antiheroes.

In Italy, a break from tradition

It’s long been common practice in Hollywood to cast conventionally attractive actors as sympathetic criminal antiheroes. Humphrey Bogart in “King of the Underworld,” Al Pacino in “The Godfather” trilogy and Denzel Washington in “American Gangster” are just a few examples.

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