Women are taking center stage in several Mob movie projects now in the news.
Hitting movie theaters this summer is The Kitchen, a Hollywood production about three women who take over their husbands’ Mob operations in the tough Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City during the late 1970s after the men are sent to prison. The film is based on a DC Vertigo comic book miniseries by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, also titled The Kitchen.
The movie was shot in Hell’s Kitchen, according to its website, and stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss as underworld wives who ultimately oversee crime rackets in the area and eliminate competitors — “literally.”
The film is the directorial debut for Andrea Berloff, who was nominated for an Original Screenplay Oscar for the 2015 movie Straight Outta Compton.
Also in the news, Jennifer Lawrence will star in and produce the feature film Mob Girl, adapted from a 1992 true-crime book with the same title by Teresa Carpenter, a Pulitzer Prize winner in the 1980s for her work at the Village Voice in New York.
Mob Girl centers on Arlyne Brickman, who grew up in New York City intrigued by gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s girlfriend Virginia Hill, then joined up with mobsters before becoming a government witness against the Colombo crime family. A timetable for the movie’s release has not been announced.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Lopez is set to star in The Godmother, a movie project in the early stages about Griselda Blanco, a Colombian drug boss prominent in Miami’s violent cocaine trade several decades ago. Blanco was assassinated in Colombia in 2012 at age 69.
Lopez, who also is producing the movie and might direct it, said in a statement that she has been “forever fascinated” by Blanco’s story, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“She is all the things we look for in storytelling and dynamic characters — notorious, ambitious, conniving, chilling,” Lopez said.
Other film projects are also making news.
Earlier this year, a documentary titled Shooting the Mafia about trailblazing Sicilian journalist Letizia Battaglia, generated news as an entry in the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Documentary Competition. The film, by Kim Longinotto, is due in theaters in November, according to an email from Cordelia Sklansky, publicity manager for the Cohen Media Group.
Battaglia began working in the turbulent 1970s for the Sicilian newspaper L’Ora in a profession dominated by men. She became known for her gruesome photographs of Mafia murders, which she called her “archive of blood.”
In a 2017 New York Times profile of the journalist, Elisabetta Povoledo wrote, “For years, people bought L’Ora to see who had been killed the day before.”
Some of Battaglia’s 600,000 photographs have been published in book format and displayed in museum exhibitions.
Battaglia, who served for a while as an elected official and is now in her mid-80s, also is featured in the 2005 documentary Excellent Cadavers, based on Alexander Stille’s 1995 nonfiction book by the same name about the deadly battle in Sicily to bring murderous crime lords to justice.
The challenges in bringing these gangsters to justice also is front and center in journalist Alex Perry’s 2018 book The Good Mothers: The True Story of the Women Who Took on the World’s Most Powerful Mafia. The book examines the Calabrian crime syndicate known as the ’Ndrangheta, which by 2010 was controlling 70 percent of the European cocaine trade from its base at the southern tip of mainland Italy and, according to investigators, “brokered arms deals with criminals, rebels, and terrorists around the world.”
Each ’Ndrangheta family “was a miniature fiefdom, in which women were little more than vassals of family honor,” Perry wrote in an excerpt published in The New Yorker.
“Women who did not uphold exacting codes of respect were beaten, often in the streets,” he wrote.
Resisting this “violent bigotry” were courageous ’Ndrangheta wives and Italian officials, some of whom lost their lives by standing up to these underworld figures.
Among the prosecutors who took on the ’Ndrangheta was Alessandra Cerreti, who, as Perry wrote, “always detested the romance that surrounded the Mafia.”
“She never understood why anyone would celebrate tyranny and killing,” he wrote.
Called a “life-changing read” by Booklist, The Good Mothers was nominated for a 2019 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.
Now plans are being made to turn the book into a television series, Perry said.
“The story was optioned — before there was even a book proposal, let alone a book — and it was that, actually, that financed me through the two years of reporting and writing,” Perry, who lives in England, said in a recent email.
Perry said the independent London company House Productions, headed by Tessa Ross, bought the rights. Ross previously ran Britain’s Film4 and produced several well-known movies, including Slumdog Millionaire.
“The Good Mothers was among the first projects that Tessa bought after branching out on her own,” Perry wrote in the email. “Stephen Butchard, one of the U.K.’s best, has written a pilot. The last I heard, House is courting an A-list director and, hopefully, soon to move into casting.”
A shooting schedule and release date have not been set, he added.
This attention that filmmakers are giving to women in the Mob world is “inevitable but not new,” said Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller professor of film studies at Wesleyan University. Basinger said in a telephone interview that she remembers as a youth seeing the 1940s movies Lady Scarface and Lady Gangster.
“When a successful genre is formed a female version is always made,”’ said Basinger, whose books about film history include volumes on war movies, musicals and silent-movie stars. A noted film scholar, she also is the author of A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960. Over the telephone, she said, “These women in Hollywood were pioneer career women.”
Basinger added that films about mobsters have proven to be a successful genre. “The Mob movie is an important part of our culture,” she said.
Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist. He served as press secretary for Nevada Governor Bob Miller, and was political editor at the Las Vegas Sun and managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Northwest Arkansas. Henry taught journalism at Haas Hall Academy in Bentonville, Arkansas, and now is the headmaster at the school’s campus in Rogers, Arkansas. The Mob in Pop Culture blog appears monthly.