Volume XXXV No. 2 Summer 2017

Table of Contents

  • Letter from the Editor107
  • Notes on Contributors111
  • “That’s Your Uncle? He’s White!” “Yeah, A Long Time”: Negotiating Whiteness in the Rocky/Creed Series
    Stephen Hock
  • White Ethnic Racial Backlash and Black Millennial Counter-narrative: Intersections of Race and Masculinity in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Series and Ryan Kyle Coogler’s Creed
    Jessica Maucione
  • Stallone’s Creed
    Stephen Hock
  • Bill Conti: Gonna Fly Now
    Carla Simonini
  • Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini
    Ben Lariccia
  • Featured Poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan
    • Essay: How I Learned What It Means To Be Italian205
    • My Appetite for Words is Boundless207
    • The Sky in San Mauro208
    • What My Father Taught Me209
  • Acts of Contrition
    Michael Gino LoStracco
  • The Grape Arbor
    Jennifer Martelli
  • Aria
    Stacy Nigliazzo
  • Steps to Climb
    Paola Corso
  • Undone
    Rosemary Starace
  • The Italian Literature Professor Recalls the Infinity of Desire
    Kevin Clark
  • Ode to the Outdoor Shower
    Ethan Joella
  • Mary
    Maria Giura
  • The Labyrinth at First United Church
    Albert DeGenova
  • Office Visit
    Mike Rose
  • What Quickens the Blood
    Michelle Reale
  • Bromco Grater
    Maryfrances Cusumano Wagner
    Creative Non-fiction
  • Rock Star Grandma
    Joan Leotta
  • Review Essay: Bicycle Thieves by Mary di Michele
    Review by Eleonora Rao
  • Review Essay: The Bronx Kill by Philip Cioffari
    Review by James Nicola
  • Review Essay: Il porto di imbarco di Messina by Sebastiano Marco Cicciò
    Review by John Paul Russo
  • Asonius: Moselle, Epigrams and Other Poems, translated by Deborah Warren with an introduction and notes by Joseph Pucci
    Review by Bijan Omrani
  • Italian Women at War: Sisters in Arms from the Unification to the Twentieth Century
    Review by Catherine Ramsey-Portolano
  • Storia vera terribile tra Sicilia e America by Enrico Deaglio
    Review by Stefano Luconi
  • In una casa un’altra casa trovo. Autobiografia di un poeta di due terre
    by Joseph Tusiani
    Review by Andrea Ciribuco
  • My Three Sicilies: Stories, Poems, and Histories by Joseph Amato
    Review by Robert Risso
  • Pre-Occupied Spaces: Remapping Italy’s Transnational Migrations and Colonial Legacies by Teresa Fiore
    Review by Michael J. LaRosa
  • Bloodletting in Minor Scales [A Canvas in Arms] by Justin Limoli
    Review by Peter Convino
  • Ma Speaks Up and a First-generation Daughter Talks Back
    Review by Carol Bonomo Albright
  • The Fabric of my Soul. Poems by Venera Fazio
    Review by Salvatore Marano
  • Thieves Never Steal in the Rain by Marisa Labozzetta
    Review by Lisa Marchi
    • Letter from the Guest Editor
      Nancy Caronia
      The Legacy of Rocky

    This special issue began as a conference panel that interrogated the interconnections of masculinity and agency within Italian-American and African-American communities in the Rocky franchise. “The Streets of Philadelphia: From Rocky to Creed” panel that was presented at the 2017 Northeast MLA revealed a complicated construction of race, white ethnicity, and black and white bodies within the Rocky films. That the fictional Rocky Balboa has survived a forty-year film career is astounding, but what emerged in this conference was that his survival is due in part to his connection and collaboration with the Creed family and legacy.

    The recent Charlottesville, VA “Unite the Right” rally that was held as I was writing this introduction brought together crowds of 20- and 30-something white men who wore Nazi swastikas on flags and t-shirts, carried assault rifles in public, and used rallying cries of “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” a phrase from Nazi ideology. These kinds of overt racism and ethnocentrism are not the only kinds of prejudice that exist in the United States, and this examination of Italian-American and African American masculinity in the Rocky series not only broadens perspectives regarding institutional racism and the assumptions made about black bodies within the nation, but also reveals the interconnection and interplay between African Americans and Italian Americans. Notions of purity, as voiced by these young white supremacists, create myopic views of history. In embracing a diversity of life narratives and an understanding that racial and ethnic groups are never singular entities, a clearer picture emerges of the strengths and weaknesses of a community, including a nation.

    For example, in the final scene of the 2015 film Creed, Rocky Balboa and Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, have their backs to the camera as they stand at the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. Adonis is framed right of center with his right hand placed on Rocky’s shoulder. Rocky stands to the right of the young Creed, and although their bodies are in the right foreground of the frame, Philadelphia’s downtown landscape fills the background and dominates the shot. Adonis and Rocky’s placement suggests the city cannot be understood without these men’s individual stories or their collaboration. They know too much and not enough singularly, but collectively, the fictional characters of Rocky and Adonis have the city’s history in their gazes.

    These gazes are complicated by the iconicity of the moment. They are standing on the top of a staircase immortalized in 1976, when the first installment of the Rocky franchise was released. The little movie that could and did win an Oscar for Best Picture framed those stairs as the rise of Rocky Balboa’s character as a fictional creation and the ascent of white ethnicity in a city where Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner, ran a mayoral campaign that foregrounded racist discrimination to position white ethnics as primary constituents.1 While Rocky did not address Rizzo’s discriminatory strategy, Creed could not forget this legacy.

    A statue to Rocky stands nearby at the bottom of the museum steps out of view of the frame of the last shot in Creed, but Rocky’s prominent ownership of this place, however fictional, is real in part due to Mayor Rizzo’s support of the original Rocky film. Creed’s Adonis and Rocky’s gazes are also complicated by what John Gennari refers to as “the contact zone—the edge and the overlap—between Italian American and African American cultures,” a “space” of “collision” and “collusion” that fosters these communities’ interaction and interdependence (8). The Rocky franchise always has been a collaborative enterprise between Italian-American and African-American artists and communities, even when character portrayals have seemed contentious or stereotypical. Additionally, each film has revealed a Philadelphia that could stand as a microcosm of the nation’s attitudes towards race and white ethnicity and a macrocosm of how a city might change or perspectives broaden over a forty-year period. In the twenty-first century, Philadelphia remains the second largest city/county area to Italian Americans and the fourth largest to African Americans in the United States.

    It’s worth noting that in the last scene of Creed, Adonis is wearing a “XXIV” jacket taken from Nike’s 2011 Kobe Bryant fashion line. Arguably one of the city’s most well-known and successful African American Philadelphians, the use of “XXIV” is both ironic and historical. The number “24” is Bryant’s number from his latter days as a Los Angeles Laker, but it appears on the jacket as a Roman numeral, not in letters familiar to a basketball jersey. These Roman numerals also then emerge as a signifier of the years Bryant spent in Italy from 1984 to 1991 when his father played professional basketball in Europe. Additionally, the number signifies the 24th Amendment, which made poll taxes illegal and gave citizens, especially African Americans, the legal right not to be charged to vote in an election or primary. In the placement of Adonis center-right and the number XXIV on his back, Creed recasts Philadelphia not merely as a city of immigrants, but as a city that teems with a diversity of black experience and collaboration between African Americans and Italians no matter from which side of the Atlantic they may come. This view gives new meaning to Philadelphia’s motto, the city of brotherly love, since the relationship between Rocky and Adonis and Apollo before him was never simple, but always familial in nature.

    The director of Creed, Ryan Coogler, draws upon a black millennial perspective that uses an iconic character as a now supporting figure in the history of the city and the film series. Rocky emerges constitutive through the continuation of the Creed family legacy. That legacy begins with Apollo Creed’s braggadocio and business acumen in Rocky, continues with his friendship and boxing expertise in Rocky III, and his death in Rocky IV. Apollo and Rocky’s relationship is in continual motion; their collaboration is always evolving and forces both men to extend themselves outside of the contact zones they find most comfortable. In particular, in Rocky III, it is Apollo who makes the choice to move from Rocky’s opponent to close family friend after Rocky’s trainer, Mickey dies from a heart attack during Rocky’s first and losing bout with Clubber Lang. Apollo offers his condolences and his services to Rocky as his trainer. At the end of Rocky III, after Rocky defeats Clubber Lang, Apollo asks for a rematch away from audiences. Apollo says, “You know, Stallion? It’s too bad we gotta get old, huh?” Rocky replies, “Ah, just keep punchin’ Apollo.” And that is what Apollo does until he is murdered in the ring by Drago in Rocky IV. In Rocky IV, Rocky grieves for Apollo as intensely as he grieves the losses of Mickey in Rocky III and Adrian in Rocky Balboa. This trajectory leaves Rocky searching for family and leaves him indebted to Apollo on numerous levels, including mentoring his son Adonis.

    In Creed, the last words spoken between Rocky and Adonis, their backs still to the camera, begin with Rocky’s musing: “If you look hard enough, you can see your whole life from up here.” Rocky is referring to both his boxing career and domestic life, of his losing his wife Adrian and his closest friend Apollo, and his estrangement with his son. There is a subtext that allows for allusion to both Stallone’s career as the creator of Rocky and Apollo Creed and the complicated and sometimes contentious history between African Americans and Italian Americans in Philadelphia and the nation. When Adonis asks Rocky how this life looks to him, the former boxer states: “Not bad at all.” But Rocky does not move into an introspective place after answering Adonis’s questions, he reframes it for his best friend’s son: “How about you?” Adonis echoes Rocky’s words: “Not bad at all” and the screen fades to black before the credits roll. This ending strikes a nostalgic and positive tone that passes the torch of one of Hollywood’s most successful franchises not only from Rocky to the young Creed, but also from a white ethnic to a black millennial perspective.

    In choosing to give creative control for Creed to Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, who plays Adonis, Stallone may have been remembering himself as a young man, hungry for the work that would fulfill him and make his career. Still, institutional racism is embedded in Hollywood and when Oscar nominations were announced, only Stallone had been nominated for a gold statuette. During the 2016 awards season, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign made overt the ways in which talented African Americans are overlooked. Stallone offered to boycott the Oscars since he felt Coogler was responsible for his nomination, but according to Stallone, Coogler told him, “I want you to go” and represent the movie (Stolworthy). Stallone’s decision to do what his director wanted stands in stark contract to Matt Damon’s response to movie producer Effie Brown during a discussion of diversity in filmmaking that took place during the fourth edition of Project Greenlight. Damon cut off Brown during a conversation about their choice of director and said: “When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show” (“Matt Damon”). Damon wound up being called out for what some have viewed as a combination of whitesplaining and mansplaining, but his apology only showcased how tone deaf he was to diversity since he stated they were already frustrated because they had 20 finalists and only three were people of color. His place as a Hollywood change maker and a successful white ethnic—he is of Irish ancestry—means he does not need to understand the ramifications of how his statements are part of Hollywood institutional racism. Stallone, on the other hand, made a point of acquiescing to Coogler’s authority and publically gave the director credit for his latest Rocky performance. Stallone may be the ultimate Hollywood professional, understanding that this reboot gives him life as a producer and actor, but his attitude also speaks to the long-standing collaborations between African-American and Italian-American artists.,

    In foregrounding the tropes of masculinity, white ethnicity, and race, the three articles that make up this special issue reveal how an examination of the Rocky franchise adds not only to film, Italian American, and African American studies, but also to white ethnic and race studies. In “Stallone’s Creed,” Jim Cocola argues the Rocky franchise is more than a “white hope” fictional framework of Italian-American assimilation and ascension, but one where African Americans and Italian Americans must rely on each other in a space of creation, inspiration, and community. In “‘That’s Your Uncle? He’s White!’ ‘Yeah, a Long Time’: Negotiation Whiteness in the Rocky/Creed Series,” Stephen Hock examines how racial identity is destabilized throughout the franchise and this instability grows in a kind of communal understanding that sets up Creed in ways that Stallone may never have imagined, but for which his previous screenplays laid the groundwork. In “White Ethnic Racial Backlash and Black Millennial Counter-narrative: Intersections of Race and Masculinity in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Series and Ryan Coogler’s Creed,” Jessica Maucione argues that Creed foregrounds a new perspective that unhinges stereotypical portrayals of black bodies, particularly male black bodies.

    The interviews that follow with Bill Conti and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini focus on successful Italian American men who were born in the mid-twentieth century. Their perspectives are useful in thinking through how immigration policies made in the wake of WWII and through the 1960s would have made assimilation important to Italian Americans in the mid- to late-twentieth century. Their perspectives remind all Italian Americans that history must be constantly interrogated for deeper understandings. Critical analysis is imperative to uproot simple sentimental portraits that diminish the complicated contexts with which Italians migrated to the United States.

    Like Creed, this special issue could not have been possible without the freedom to explore new and rethink old perspectives about the film franchise, including Rocky’s place as an Italian American and the Creed legacy as constitutive of Rocky’s framework. It is important to delve ever deeper in bringing to the front the connections between and within Italian-American and African-American communities and to understand that any attack on a black body affects us all.


    1See Stefano Luconi’s From Paesani to White Ethnics: The Italian Experience in Philadelphia, especially Chapter 6: From Italian Americans to White Ethnics for insight on the Frank Rizzo’s tactics as police commissioner and mayor of Philadelphia.

      Works Cited

    Creed. Directed by Ryan Coogler, MGM/Warner Bros., 2015.

    “Matt Damon Apologizes for Diversity Comments on Project Greenlight.” Variety. September 16, 2015. http://variety.com/2015/film/news/matt-damon-project-greenlight-diversity-apology-1201595189/

    Gennari, John. Flavor and Soul: Italian America at Its African American Edge. U of Chicago P, 2017.

    Luconi, Stefano. From Paesani to White Ethnics: The Italian Experience in Philadelphia. SUNY P, 2001.

    Stolworthy, Jacob. “Oscars 2016: Sylvester Stallone Offered to Boycott Awards Show, Creed Director Ryan Coogler Told Him Not To.” Independent. February 9, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/oscars/oscars-2016-sylvester-stallone-offered-to-boycott-ceremony-over-creeds-snub-ryan-coogler-told-him-a6862916.html