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LegateLivius

Why has Hollywood consistently portrayed Italians (especially Italian Americans) as fair skinned? Despite stereotypes of Italians as dark skinned before the Civil Rights movement?

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Considering the common stereotype that Italians are olive skinned and among the darkest of the white people? I can understand modern cinema showing them as fair and even pale since much of the Italian Americans nowadays either have Germanic or Celtic blood or are immigrants from the wealthier Italian regions (or of middle class origin).

However even old movies from the 30s-50s, when racism against specific nationalities of white immigrants was still a thing, show them as fair skin. Even the stereotype of Italians being (by white standards) dark skin still lasted into the 70s. Yet much of the most popular flicks revolving around Italians or Italian Americans such as Rocky show them as milky white as your average American (especially Sylvester Stallone who is really of Italian descent). Even films that show Italian stereotypes such as The Godfather tended to portray them considerably lighter skinned than stereotypes at the time.

Why did this phenomenon occur in cinema despite Italians being portrayed as dark and borderline nonwhite in American bias at the time (and heck even Western Europeans saw them as lowly whites especially Anglo Saxon and Germanic nations)? I mean Hollywood stereotyped much of the Spaniards, Portuguese, and such as olive skin (with much of the same stereotypes as Italians in the early 20th century).

So why did Italians break away from this stigma in popular movies?

Hollywood usually portray the Arabs as brown skin as Mexicans or at best olive skinned if they are shown as white. Enough that when they use big stars like Guinness they darkened them intentionally with makeup and such (as seen in Khartoum and Lawrence of Arabia) to at least look olive skin dark shade. With the Balkans swarthy whites is the typical portrayal in cinema and recently video games as seen in Grand Theft Auto 4's protagonist Niko Bellic.

However Italians are shown as much lighter even when they hire olive actors (even using make up as seen in some of Rudolph Valentino's behind the scene stuff).

Stallone may have facial features associated with Italians, but his skin can pass off as WASP esp in his younger years and in certain shades of light.

The point I'm making is that from the 19th century up until the 50s Italians had a lot of prejudice similar to what Mexicans and other Latinos currently face. Dark skinned, uneducated, and lazy criminals or manual laborers.

They practically repeat these stereotypes with Hispanics and same with whatever national negative stereotypes with other groups (such as Russian immigrants being commies, French being perverts and white skinned, etc).

With the Italians, they refused to revert to stereotypes and portray them positively, even going as far as using make up to lighten up darker skinned Italians to make them appear more WASP in skin tone. VERY STRANGE which is why I asked this question. Why portray Italians in a positive manner and refuse to use the old negative racist stereotypes actual Italians were facing at the time?

Why couldn't say the French (portrayed as all pale skinned whites and aggressive imperialists abusing natives or perverts who chase skirts) be shown with an olive skinned citizen who has the sex drive of a monk? Or Chinese guys being romantic and rebelling against parents? Or better yet use a Mestizo Mexican who's light skinned with a role of a scientist (I know Salma Hayek is already one example but most roles don't try to aver stereotypes)?

What made Hollywood interested in averting negative prejudices about Italians? I mean Rudolph Valentino was Hollywood's first sex symbol and he was a recent immigrant when he became a star!

Edited by LegateLivius

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I work with an Italian colleague and have worked alongside others from Italian families. They're all as white skinned as me.

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