PinkNews.co.uk’s Ben Leung analyses homophobia in the mob, well the fictional one at least.
Last week on British television, the unlikeliest mobster to emerge out of HBO’s acclaimed series ‘The Sopranos’ met with a grisly end at the hands of his bitter cousin-in-law, who was not only bashed him to death, but died with a snooker cue rammed into his backside.
To regular devotees of the series – and I wish there were more of us out there – gay mobster Vito Spatafore’s whacking had been largely expected though when it came, it served as a bit of a shock.
To the uninitiated though, ‘The Sopranos’ is more than just mobsters trying to kill one another. Sure, that’s an integral part of the series since that’s what they do in real-life.
But its creator David Chase has also intricately devised a series which mixes violence with crisp dialogues, humorous gags and a glimpse into the main characters’ domestic lives. The end result is a masterpiece of televisual feast.
Since hitting our screens back in 1999, the multi-award winning series has been well-received from audience and critics alike.
However, criticisms have also been levelled at the show due to its negative portrayal of Italian-American immigrant as bloody-thirsty, greedy thugs.
A distinct lack of representation from minority groups has also been mentioned as one of the shortfalls of the series. A whole raft of ethnic minority characters have since been introduced though most surprising of all was a closet gay mobster named Vito Spatafore.
Fans have been intrigued by Vito ever since they saw him perform oral sex on a security guard at a construction site during in the fifth series. Played by Joseph R Gannascoli,
Vito’s character stood out like a sore thumb in a world that is notoriously homophobic.
Outwardly, he looked like your typical New Jersey mobster – Italian-American, menacing, gun-wielding, loyal, large and virile. Inside, he was torn between two very different worlds.
Internet chat-rooms across America have speculated that Vito’s character is based upon a real-life New Jersey mobster named John D’Amato, who was killed by the DeCalvacante family in 1992 for being gay. Indeed, such is the intolerance for homosexuals amongst the underworld community that those who bat for the other side usually end up dead.
But the fact that we, the viewers, had known all along that he was leading a double life meant that we were itching to see how his character would develop. What kind of fate awaited this man? How would he be outed, and if so, will he survive or will he end up ‘sleeping with the fish’, in other words, get whacked?
The inevitable ‘outing’ came in spectacular style during the ‘Mr and Mrs John Sacrimoni Request’ episode of the sixth series, when two of Tony Soprano’s business associates bumped into a care-free Vito at a fetish club, fully-dressed in leather bondage gear, being led around by two men on a dog leash.
Words soon reached the other captains of Vito’s ‘allegiance’ as a sense of shock and outrage swept through the crime family. Evidently, these mobsters had no problem ‘extracting’ money from ‘alternative’ venues, but a gay mobster? Well, that’s a no-no.
A horrified Vito tried to make light of the situation but immediately feared for his safety. He blamed it on his medication and pondered suicide. Ultimately, he fled to New Hampshire, and assumed a new identity, befriended and moved in with a local café owner and part-time fireman named Jim. This unlikely pairing thus embarked on what was surely one of the most unexpected yet touching of relationships in the history of the show.
Viewers witnessed the two men’s volatile yet blissful domestic life including the mobster making macaroni with pork chops for his partner with Dean Martin’s ‘That’s Amore’ playing in the background.
But it was all too brief. Bored by the countryside, and fast running out of cash, Vito had no choice but to return to an uncertain fate at New Jersey where, as one of boss Tony Sopranos’s most loyal and lucrative captains and begged for a reprieve.
However, the damage had already been done; fellow captains argued that by being a closet case meant they had been deceived, with doubts raised over his loyalty to the clan.
Vito’s mere existence was therefore giving the DiMeo mob family a bad reputation and his death warrant was signed, only for Vito’s violent and much-humiliated cousin-in-law Phil Leotardo to kill him first, mercilessly beating him to death with baseball bats in a motel room with two henchmen.
Not the most brutal death by Sopranos standard, but harrowing nonetheless. Nor did it come as a surprise though the timing was a little unexpected. With nine episodes left in the series, even the actor who played Vito was taken aback by his early exit from the set.
Gannascoli, 47, explained that the producers had actually shot four different endings to Vito’s character. The fact that they chose the finite version indicated that not only had his character run its course, but that creator David Chase had merely stuck faithfully to the harsh reality that if you’re a ‘finook’ amongst a sea of Catholic mobsters, you’d better keep shtum or it’s straight to an early grave.
Neil Giuliano, head of the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation initially welcomed the inclusion of a gay character in this, commented, “We hope the show delves more into his life and the reaction of Tony’s crew.”
Somehow, I don’t think Mr Giuliano would be best pleased with the ‘reaction’ or the nature of the larger-than-life character’s death.