Sunday, 17 February 2013

Pinocchio - Stromboli

More often than not when people think about racism in film, and in life they jump to racism directed towards African Americans and First Nations stereotypes.  Isn't that automatic jump to these two cultures pretty racist? The face is that racism is present in all cultures and towards all cultures and peoples.

Criticism for Pinocchio seems to be mostly centred around two groups, Jewish and First Nations.  People have interpreted the character of Stromboli as a Jewish Gypsy.  Stromboli's pre-occupation with money and his anger when someone throws a metal slug on stage instead of legal tender certainly plays to the stereotype of Jewish men as misers focused on money, loans, and wealth.  This stereotype has been explored countless other times, perhaps the most well known being in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice where the character of Shylock is a Jewish money lender in the city of Venice.  He is seen as unloving, uncaring, and blood thirsty with the mantra of "I will have my bond".  But where does this stereotype of Jewish as misers and money lenders come from?

Stromboli finds a slug in his earnings
Pinocchio - 1940

Well it all comes from the widespread of Christianity throughout Europe.  Christians were not supposed to lend money and expect it back in return, especially with interest.  Jewish did not have this same moral focus.  Christianity is rooted a specific morality and love of all people while Judaism focuses more on the importance of the law, The Torah.  Because of this, Jewish people made a business out of lending money to Christians and charging interest on that money, before there were centralised banks. 

Pinocchio - 1940

Coming back to Stromboli, He seems quite Italian to me, be doesn't seem to be animated with any stereotypically 'Jewish' facial features.  In my mind Stromboli is a gypsy trying to support himself by putting on a travelling puppet show.  In addition to that we see that he drinks a fair amount which could lead to his anger management issues.  Perhaps there is a reason that he works with puppets and not other humans, because he is a horrible man with a vile temper. 

The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi was first published as a serial in Italy in between 1881 and 1883.  In the story Collodi focuses of a misbehaving puppet and does not focus on the ideas of a higher morality and conscious that are so dominant throughout Disney's film.  Instead it seems to tackle the real and practical issues of life in Florence and the struggles of finding the bare necessities of life, food, shelter, etc... in Florence. 

If Stromboli is a Jewish miser then Collodi is contributing to the traditional treatment of Jewish people in his time and the time before him.  He is building on the tradition of discontent amongst Christians who simply did not understand the concepts of interest on money loans.  It was not part of their religion and against their morality which led Christians to view Jewish as morally inferior to themselves. 

However, let's not forget that Stromboli has an identifiably Italian accent and he curses repeatedly in Italian, not an identifiable Jewish accent and he does not curse in Hebrew.  Finally, the name Stromboli is a distinctly Italian name, named after the Volcano of the same name.  Stromboli translates to 'fire-eating' or 'fire-spewing' which describes both the behaviour of a volcano Stromboli's bad temper and attitude. 

 Disney's Pinocchio was released in 1940.  Historically we are looking at the period of the Holocaust here.  the Holocaust, or systematic persecution of Jews in Germany and German occupied territories by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.  The Holocaust 'started' around 1933 and lasted until 1945.  Given that the Disney Company produced several anti-Axis country and anti-Hilter short films during World War II I have a hard time believing that the company would use Stromboli as a Jewish stereotype.  Stromboli is not Jewish.  He does not look Jewish, he does not sound Jewish, he is Italian. 

The only similarity he has to a Jewish person seems to be the similarity between Stromboli and Jewish men as money lending misers.  If this is enough to make Disney racist for viewers then they need to examine why they themselves see Jewish people in this way and interpret Stromboli in this way.  It is not Disney that is racist in this case, it is the viewers. 

Pinocchio - 1940
This is the end of my thoughts on Stromboli, but not the end of my thoughts on Pinocchio.  Coming up in the next two days, First Nations and flirtatious European marionettes. 


  1. Hey, just wondering! I'm Italian, and I noticed that Stromboli is the only one with any resemblance to any Italians among my family or friends. The others are very white, Anglo-Saxon, not Mediterranean, what have you. Do you think it's possible that, since in 1940 Italy was technically Germany's footstool, Disney decided to make most of the characters Swiss, who are known for their neutrality during the war, so as not to endorse the Axis? I like Disney's films a lot, so I think that he was trying to be American rather than racist against Italians.

  2. Remember if they're from Northern Italy they'll be more fair. I love Pinocchio my son resembles him and my father looks just like Geppetto.

  3. Remember if they're from Northern Italy they'll be more fair. I love Pinocchio my son resembles him and my father looks just like Geppetto.

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  5. Stromboli is obviously the portrait of a nomad jew. greedy and middle-eastern looking. It's well known that jews during history have taken their names off cities or places names where they settled in. Stromboli is a Sicilian isle. Also, 7 years before, in the Three Little Pigs, the bad wolf was originally designed disguised as a jewish brushes seller, whose nome is Zeke (a jewish nickname), and whose appearance was very similar to Stromboli's. Walt Disney was smart.
    you can see it here:

  6. Stromboli is Romani (either Roma or Sinti), not Jewish! This is Antiziganism, not Anti-Semitism!

  7. Also, please look up what "Gypsy" actually means! -- Signed an actual Romani person.

  8. Whoops, meant to share this: (Please see Christopher Quinn's response.)

  9. Americans trying to virtue singal while not even knowing what a gipsy is. Truly a country of clowns.

    1. That's unfair man. Not all Americans are like this.
      I live in New York, and I know who the Roma are. In this country "Gypsies" don't tend to live in encampments like in much of the world, their families tend to be more assimilated here.

      As for Stromboli , historically there has long been Gypsies in Italy. I would say he is either meant to be an Italian-Gypsy, or a blend of the two stereotypes.
      This is the early 1940's , Southern Italian immigrants were still heavily discriminated against in the U.S. as racial "others".