Pop Culture and the Italian Mafia: The Glamorization of the Italian Mafia over the past century

For the past century, cinematographers around the world have created movies and television shows that glamorize the Italian Mafia. In many countries around the world the Italian Mafia is thought of as this lifestyle that has a “get rich quick” mentality when it is much different from that. Movies and television shows like The Sopranos, Goodfellas, and The Godfather have greatly sped up the glamorization of the Italian Mafia because of their Italian American depictions. Hollywood was the birthplace of making Italian mobster characters seem like the good guys, and once Hollywood created this glorification, it was hard to go back to what it was before. 

Italian filmmakers and the creation of the first mafia movie              

Italian filmmakers have been creating mafia films for decades. When casting the characters for these Italian mafia movies, Italian filmmakers wanted to cast someone that could portray a real villain. They wanted the audience to depict the character as shady and not approachable, Italian filmmakers didn’t want to promote mafia culture because of the large effects the Italian mafia has had on Italy and the large amounts of Italian people it has affected. Some examples of these shady mafia characters are Tony Sperandeo in One Hundred Steps (released in 2000) and Vincenzo Albanese in Placido Rizzotto (released in 2000). Both movies did very well in Italy but didn’t make the international movie scene like they had hoped for.

Hollywood takes over 

Unlike the Italian filmmakers, Hollywood filmmakers believed they could make mafia movies better than anyone else in the world, and they proved themselves. Hollywood filmmakers took a different spin on these mafia characters and instead of making them undesirable and shady, they made them handsome and likable. Even though these characters were supposed to be “bad guys” it was hard to not like them because of their witty personalities. One of the first Hollywood mafia films that used these casting tactics was The Godfather (released in 1972) starring Al Pacino, someone who Americans believed to be very handsome. The Godfather was an instant classic, loved by people around the world, and Hollywood filmmakers realized they had finally figured out the secret to success. A movie that justified this tactic was Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (released in 1990). 

Undesirable vs. Lovable: Tony Sperandeo in One Hundred Steps (left); 
Al Pacino in The Godfather (right)
Undesirable vs. Lovable: Tony Sperandeo in One Hundred Steps (left); 
Al Pacino in The Godfather (right)

By the early 2000s, Italian filmmakers realized they needed to change their ways, or they would suffer. Instead of usually casting an undesirable character they casted a very handsome one. One of the first examples of an attractive mafia character in an Italian film was Kim Rossi Stuart in Romanzo Criminale (released in 2005). Even though Italians were late to realize this change needed to be made, they realized it was the only way there would be a success for Italian mafia films. Since Hollywood’s almost instant success in Italian mafia films, people from around the world have become hyper fixated on the Italian mafia. Because of Hollywood’s portrayal of the Italian mafia, people believe the mafia is a “positive force”. Most people believe in this positivity because of the small repercussions the Italian mafia has had on their lives. People that live in Italy though, are affected every day because of the mafia. Even in the 21st century, the mafia is still very much present throughout Italy. Thousands of people have been affected by the Italian mafia. The mafia in Italy has taken thousands of lives and continues to do it. Out of all the countries in the world, the United States is thought to have the second highest Italian mafia presence after Italy, but the presence in the United States is miniscule compared to Italy. Since the 2000s the Italian American mafia in the United States has become almost nonexistent. Hollywood’s portrayal of the Italian mafia has caused people around the world to believe the Italian mafia isn’t a true problem when it is the opposite of that. Pop culture has made people around the world believe the Italian mafia crimes are innocent, and they are helping. 

The Italian Mafia’s pivot toward the Digital World

Today, pop culture can relate to many different things, but most of pop culture and the “trends” that go along with it begin on social media. Since the coming of the digital age, the Italian mafia has done its best to infiltrate themselves into the social networking world. Since the creation of TikTok and Instagram reels, it has given everyone around the world access to absolutely anything with the click of a button. Italian mafia bosses took notice and wanted to get their message across. Even though the Italian mafia isn’t as prevalent as it was 20 years ago, it still has a large presence in Italy and around the world. Vincenzo Torcaso is famously known as the boss of the Calabrian mafia in Italy. He was incarcerated in 2017, but before that, was gaining a substantial following on Facebook for his push against the Italian government. He would post pictures of large sums of money with captions having to do with hating on the Italian government and their anti-mafia ways. Because of his big following Torcaso was able to grow his criminal brand by bringing it onto a digital platform. Even though this nonfiction, and usually the movies seen on TV are fiction, people are still glamorizing the mafia and making themselves believe it is normal to be posting a criminal brand to a social media platform. This is showing a reinvention of the Italian mafia.

Vincenzo Torcaso’s famed Facebook page, via LaC News 24


As we come to a close, the main points of this article were to talk about the glamorization of the Italian mafia over the past 100 years because of pop culture. Hollywood filmmakers were the people that started this idea of glamorizing the Italian mafia because of their idea of casting attractive mob bosses to draw watchers in. This idea was an absolute success, and because of it some of the greatest Italian mafia movies were created and can be called instant classics. It took Italian filmmakers some time to adjust to this idea and realize that the attractive mafia bosses were what audiences around the world loved. After changing the casting ideals from undesirable to handsome, Italian mafia films created by Italian filmmakers became interesting and started to be watched around the world. Since the beginning of the digital world, Italian mafia boss wanted to create a name for themselves, they didn’t want to be based off a movie or television show. Many of them decided to create social media pages where they promoted their criminalized businesses by posting pictures of money and quotes talking about how bad the Italian government is. The first person to start this was one of Italy’s most famous mafia boss’, Vincenzo Torcaso. Torcaso took the Italian mafia into the digital world and created a following and a phenomenon that thousands of people around the world would become obsessed with and glamorizing this ‘hustler’ lifestyle. As technology progresses year after year, it will be interesting to see how the mafia will be glamorized next. 

Informational Citations

Brandi, Mark. “’It Was Terrifying’: 50 Years after the Godfather, an Italian Stereotype Still Burns.” The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.smh.com.au/culture/movies/it-was-terrifying-50-years-after-the-godfather-an-italian-stereotype-still-burns-20220221-p59ybd.html. 

Ciribuco, A. (2017). Transnational Uses of Mafia Imagery in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. CLCWeb : Comparative Literature and Culture19(4). https://doi.org/10.7771/1481-4374.2975.

Johnson, Miles. “The Mafia Turns Social Media Influencer to Reinforce Its Brand.” Subscribe to Read | Financial Times, Financial Times, 2 Jan. 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/285732c9-e962-4896-83c2-ce31e09003e6. 

Renga, D. (2013). Unfinished business: screening the Italian Mafia in the new millennium. University of Toronto Press.

Media Citations

I Cento Passi . https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.sas.bg.it%2Fdocuments%2Fcaf71570-0674-4266-a6e3-bc97953ee070&psig=AOvVaw3h9dLPqCNCyZCNpPcWsUP6&ust=1671138039179000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAMQjB1qFwoTCIjPmbuA-vsCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAE. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022. 

“Mangiardi: ‘Chiudete La Pagina Di Vincenzo Torcasio.” LaC News 24, 16 Feb. 2017, https://www.lacnews24.it/cronaca/lamezia-mangiardi-chiudete-pagina-vincenzo-torcasio-ndrangheta_24287/. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022. 

“Photo of Young Al Pacino in the Set of The Godfather.” Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/454019206175619787/. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.