Movie references or criticisms of intelligence are racist, according to Chris Cuomo. The CNN host was heckled last night and, among other insults, was called Fredo, a reference to “The Godfather” and the unintelligent, traitorous son of the Corleone family.
How Fredo, the tragic “Godfather” character, became an insult wielded by Trump https://t.co/pZX1AxDq3m
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) August 13, 2019
Film fans love a good “Godfather” reference. Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic has rested at number-two-rated film on IMDb for years, and has topped countless best movies lists. The stunning cinematography, excellent writing, and engrossing story all solidify the 1972 film and its sequel’s positions in the annals of film history as the masterpieces they are.
Aside from the brilliant filmmaking, one aspect that truly makes “The Godfather” memorable and endlessly reference-able are its iconic and well-developed characters. With the family-focused heir-apparent Sonny, the wise yet dangerous Vito, the innocent and disillusioned Kay, the endlessly clever Tom, and the increasingly dark Michael, the protagonists of “The Godfather” are rich, well-layered, and serve as excellent sources of comparison due to their specificity and the ubiquity of the film.
Calling someone Fredo, for example, would be saying that he is the dumb member of hisfamily. Fredo is a man with little power or status, due to his comparative lack of intelligence, and his feelings of inadequacy lead him to ultimately betray his family.
In comparing someone to Fredo, you could be calling that person dumb, weak, impotent, treacherous, or any combination of the following. The phrase has nothing to do with negative stereotypes against Italian Americans, and its only cultural weight is as a personal criticism.
Cuomo apparently changed his mind over whether the name was acceptable when it was applied to him. Never mind that he referred to himself as Fredo in a radio interview, comparing himself to his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Apparently, now that he is being heckled with the name, calling an Italian-American “Fredo” is equal to using the n-word.
First of all, no it isn’t. Fredo is not a slur against Italian Americans. It’s a clever, heightened way of calling someone the dumb sibling or a weak and ineffectual person. Secondly, actual slurs do exist in language to specifically target Italian Americans. Lastly, to borrow phrasing from comedian John Mulaney, “If you’re comparing the badness of two words, and you won’t even say one of them, that’s the worse word.”
With so much actually happening in the world today, is the best thing to get upset about really a heckler comparing you to a movie character?
Paulina Enck is an intern at the Federalist and current student at Georgetown University in the School of Foreign Service. Follow her on Twitter at @itspaulinaenck