‘Italians in Hollywood’ Traces Road to Greatness on the Silver Screen

Avengers' directors Joe and Anthony Russo unveiled the latest addition to the historic exhibit at IAMLA in May.

By ISDA Contributing Editor Marianna Gatto

On May 31, the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA) unveiled the newest addition — the iconic Captain America shield — to its permanent exhibition, Italians in Hollywood. The latest piece showcases the achievements of record-smashing directors Joe and Anthony Russo, best known for Avengers: Infinity War, and Captain America: Civil War.

Born a year apart in Cleveland, Ohio, the Russo brothers are lifelong members of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, and cite the values they learned growing up in their Italian American family as pivotal to their success.

After winning an Emmy for their work on the television series Arrested Development, Anthony and Joe Russo were selected by Marvel Studios to direct the Winter Soldier installment of the Captain America movie franchise, which opened to critical acclaim in 2014. Marvel tapped the brothers to direct the sequel, Captain America: Civil War, which grossed $1.1 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film of 2016.

The Russo brothers’ latest project, Avengers: Infinity War (Part I), has already become the fifth-highest-grossing movie of all time, reaching $1.9 billion in worldwide sales.

During their remarks, the Russo brothers spoke about their parents, Patricia and Basil Russo, who had traveled from Ohio to attend the exhibition unveiling. Despite initial reservations about their sons’ pursuit of filmmaking as a career, Basil and Patricia took extra steps to support Joe and Anthony’s creative pursuits.

“This is a very special moment for us,” said Anthony Russo. “Our Italian heritage is part of who we are, and to be here and celebrate with family, friends and loved ones means the world to us. For all the powerful things you can take away from the Italian American experience, this could be the most important. In times of your greatest need, your family is there for you. Even though the rest of the world may doubt or dismiss you, your family has faith.”

Joe Russo echoed that sentiment: “Our parents showered us with love and affection, and hammered the value of discipline and hard work, which still resides with us today. And for that, we’re truly grateful. Our hope is to continue that legacy as we embark on creating meaningful contributions to our collective culture.”

ISDA President Basil Russo, who has devoted much of his life to preserving and promoting Italian American heritage, addressed the attendees who came to witness the momentous event. “It is very exciting for us as a family to be afforded the opportunity to be part of this museum,” Basil remarked. “We have a rich history here, and the museum will memorialize this history in perpetuity. The IAMLA provides a wonderful learning experience for all our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”

Italians in Hollywood is one of the seven exhibitions that comprise the IAMLA’s permanent exhibition. It explores the contributions of Italians and Italian Americans in the entertainment industry, which can be traced to the earliest days of Hollywood. Italians in Hollywood showcases the legacy of luminaries such as Rudolph Valentino, Frank Capra, Annette Funicello, Francis Ford Coppola and Lady Gaga, while exploring the complex relationship between the Italians and the media.

As part of the dynamic exhibition exploring the Russo brothers’ history and achievements, a Captain America shield used by actor Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War is on display. One other such shield is currently exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

“Whether on screen or behind the camera, Italian Americans have played an integral role in the entertainment industry since its inception,” said Marianna Gatto, Executive Director–Historian of IAMLA. “Anthony and Joe Russo exemplify this legacy, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles is honored to showcase the Russo brothers’ achievements in its permanent exhibition.”

Located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, in one of the oldest remaining structures from the city’s Historic Little Italy, the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles invites visitors to journey into the largely overlooked history of Italians in Southern California and the nation, using state-of-the-art technology, artifacts, and hundreds of rare and never-before-seen images and historical documents. Thanks to a partnership with Google Cultural Institute, the IAMLA’s permanent exhibition is also presented online. The IAMLA is open to the public free of charge, though donations are encouraged. For more information, please visit www.iamla.org.

View Joe and Anthony Russo’s induction into the IAMLA, and the unveiling of the Captain America shield, below:

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