When most people hear the words “Italian mafia” they most typically think of The Godfather (1972). And it is no surprise they do so. After all, it is revered as one of greatest mafia movies and a popular classic. However, this particular representation of Italians and the mafia has influenced the vast majority of subsequent mafia and mobster media. The widespread success and popularity of the film led to the creation of a particular perception of Italian and many stereotypes. This image of being linked to organized crime and violence has subsequently influenced the vast majority of mafia media. The strong presence of violence, the willingness to achieve goals through any means necessary, and the immense emphasis on the importance of family and loyalty can be seen in most mafia films and shows today. These factors create the perfect concoction for any mafia or mobster movie. But not only are these aspects of the mafia highlighted in the media, the media embellishes the idea of being a member of the mafia. They portray these once brutal, Sicilian criminal organizations to be stunning and glamorous. These features and the influence of The Godfather can not only be found in various types of contemporary mafia media today, but also around the world. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Omerta: The City of Gangsters is a European created video game that was released in 2013. It is a simulation game that is set in Atlantic City during the 1920s. The main objective of the player is to expand their criminal influence in the illegal world of organized crime. During this era of prohibition, the player must purchase property, gain access to weapons, obtain bootleg alcohol, and protect their business from rival mafia groups to become the strongest and most powerful criminal in Atlantic City. The protagonist in this game is Boss D’Angelo, an Italian immigrant from Sicily.
This video game is an excellent example of how the media represents Italian mafia stereotypes. The entire premise of this game is built upon the assumption that Italians are associated with crime. In fact, the primary objective of this game, where the player is an immigrant, is to become the biggest, baddest criminal possible. This only further suggests to audiences that Italians regularly participate in illegal behavior. It also reinforces the notion that members of the mafia will engage in violence and any means necessary to achieve what they want. To sum it up, the ends justify their means. The value of family in an Italian mafia setting can also subtly be seen in this game. Three characters, known as the Tucci brothers, represent that closeness that Italian mafia members seem to value in most mafia media types. Furthermore, the name of the video came, Omerta, is an Italian word meaning ‘code of silence’, an honor code that many mafia groups historically lived by. As one can see, all of the classic mafia media characteristics that can be seen, not to mention highly glorified, in this video game. And many other games in this category share similar characteristics such as Grand Theft Auto III, Gangsters 2: Vendetta, and This is Police.
Vincenzo is a 2021 South Korean television show that tells the story of Vincenzo Cassano, a Korean born man who was adopted into an Italian family. Vincenzo later becomes an Italian lawyer, joins the mafia, and becomes the consigliere to Don Fabio, the mafia boss of the Cassano family. When Don Fabio dies and his son attempts to murder Vincenzo, Vincenzo escapes to Seoul, South Korea. In Seoul, Vincenzo seeks to obtain the 1.5 tons of gold that he helped stash in the basement of an old building, Geumga Plaza. But when the evil company Babel tries to take the land, he runs into issues and conflict. The K-drama depicts Babel as operating like a mafia group. In order to combat their evil and brutal tactics, Vincenzo also relies on his own knowledge and mafia tactics that he learned through his experience as a consigliere for the Cassano family. Much of this story surrounds Vincenzo being a former consigliere. Interestingly, the term ‘consigliere’ was popularized by both the book and movie, The Godfather. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary even has their own anecdote about the movie under the ‘consigliere’ definition page. This just goes to demonstrate the immense influence The Godfather played in the realm of mafia media representation.
Vincenzo and his team also have to rely on illegal means to fight Babel, through which many entertaining and tense scenes are created. All the while, Vincenzo creates his own family with the eccentric tenants of Geumga Plaza. It is here that the core mafia principle of valuing family can be seen. He unites the tenants to fight to save their building from Babel, despite using illegal means. But through all of this, the Geumga squad are still shown as dashing, stylish, and chic. These are all clear components of a classic mafia story. Typical K-drama lovers are not used to seeing mafia stories, as K-dramas are usually tales of melodramatic romance. So perhaps the popularity and emphasis on the Italian mafia contributed to this television series being such a widespread success.
Mafia Mamma is an American action comedy film that was recently released in theaters on April 14, 2023. It portrays the story of an unassuming suburban mother, Kristin, who is suddenly thrown into an Italian mafia conflict right after her estranged grandfather passes away. After trying to cope with her only son leaving for college and recently discovering her husband’s infidelity, she is contacted by Bianca, her grandfather’s most trusted advisor. She is flown to Rome to attend his funeral and settle his affairs, when the event is interrupted with gunfire. Kristin discovers that her grandfather was actually the mafia boss of the Balbano family, and he has left his empire to her. This film also includes each of the mafia movie ingredients we have discussed. First off, this movie is violent. One critic said that it is “too violent to pass muster as a comedy” and another called it “too stereotypical.”
But despite this recent picture receiving terrible reviews, this mafia movie also emphasizes the importance of family. When trying to convince Kristin to take over for her grandfather, Bianca explains that “[her] Grandfather preferred to call [the mafia] the invisible family. Invisible but strong. And we cannot appear weakened.” This reinforces the idea that the notion of family is unbreakable within the mafia. Moreover, it is through this unexpected journey that Kristin finds herself, discovers her self worth, and becomes a ‘girl boss’. While many mafia films and television shows depict mafia bosses to be men, this film attempts to empower women by illustrating Kristin as the head figure. This is also once more an example of the media glorifying the mafia and representing it as admirable.
Furthermore, this film does not just contain elements that can be traced back to The Godfather, but the film also mentions it explicitly. When Kristin asks Biana if another member of the Balbano mafia family can take her place, Biana refuses and explains that “it can’t be Fabrizio. He started the shootout. He’s a hothead with a horrible temper, just like Sonny” (Sonny is one of the main characters of The Godfather). This is yet another perfect example of how strongly The Godfather has influenced mafia media. Films like Mafia Mamma are still referring to it, even over 50 years later.
In conclusion, the vast influence of The Godfather is undeniable. Its representation of Italians and mafia culture extend into the farthest reaches of contemporary media. Its impact is apparent in video games, television shows, and movies from various regions of the world. Not only is it highly regarded as one of the best films of all time, but it lives on in the crevices of the last 50 years of mafia media, and it will arguably continue to do so for the next 50 years. And while the public’s perception and representation of Italians will continue to gradually shift, we can be certain of one thing: we will always be able to trace these changes back in time to The Godfather.
“Consigliere Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/consigliere#:~:text=%3A%20a%20person%20who%20serves%20as,a%20sitdown%20of%20the%20dons.
Haemimont Games. Omerta: The City of Gangsters. Kalypso Media, Germany, FX Interactive, Spain, 2013. Played in April 2023.
Mafia Mamma. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, 2023.
“Mafia Mamma – Movie Reviews.” Rotten Tomatoes, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/mafia_mamma/reviews?intcmp=rt-what-to-know_read-critics-reviews.
Pitroso, Giulio. “Mafia and the Representation of Italians.” Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association, vol. 5, no. 1, 2020, https://doi.org/10.26503/todigra.v5i1.110.
The Godfather. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, 1972.
Vincenzo. Created by Park Jae-bum, Studio Dragon, 2021.