As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” So opens a cinematic classic that I have loved since I first watched it back in college. But apparently, according to Kyle Smith of the New York Post, I am not capable of understanding Goodfellas because I’m a woman.

 

 

Since when do genitalia and hormones determine whether someone enjoys a particular narrative? I’ve been pretty fascinated by mob and mafia culture ever since my first viewing of The Godfather in middle school. I wrote my senior English paper on the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and even named a kitten I had Al Capone. This world of crime, violence, and secrecy has enthralled my attention for more than half of my life. It’s insulting to be told that I cannot understand. This is a major slap in the face to the women who worked on not only Goodfellas, but countless other mob movies. In particular, we have Thelma Schoonmaker: three-time Oscar winner for her editing work done on Martin Scorsese films. She has worked on so many well-known and well-received films; her work is consistently great. It would be impossible to do her job if she is as clueless as Smith makes women out to be. Or what about Barbara De Fina? She was an executive producer on the film, but of course she didn’t really understand what the film was about. Right? She was probably too busy shopping and cooking and giggling to comprehend the themes.

 

 

Smith claims that the whole point of the film is “ball-busting” between bros. While there is definitely plenty of that, to reduce the themes of Goodfellas to a simplistic meaning like that does it a great disservice. Loyalty, camaraderie, family, the dangers of the criminal life, and even hierarchical respect underscore the entire film. Paulie, as the patriarch of the family, oversees all that happens. When Henry and Jimmy begin to move serious amounts of drugs without his knowledge, we as the audience understand the great risk they are taking. Even though mob activities are kept from the outside world through bribes and violence, you don’t keep secrets in the family. If you do, you’re dead. It’s not about ball-busting; it’s about the code. While the mob’s code seems extreme to the average Joe, it’s consistent among the classics. You don’t hide things from the boss or you pay the price. One of the best lines from the Godfather trilogy is when Michael confronts his brother Fredo. “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” Betrayal comes at a high cost in this world. Reducing the film to ball-busting is infantile.

 

 

The oversimplification of plot isn’t Smith’s only problem. He refers to women as “sensitivity police,” proving he is sexist as well as an idiot. I’ve watched just about every mob film there is and never once have I stopped watching something because I was feeling too sensitive. This plays into the cultural ideal that women are weak and cannot handle the more disturbing parts of life. I don’t need to be sheltered and saved by a man from the evils of the world. I want to look it straight in the face and see it for what it is. I’m not afraid of hard subjects or dark material. Goodfellas has plenty of violence, but violence is sadly a part of our world. I could list tons of events in recent news that have been just as bad, if not worse, than what we see here. While the film takes place in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, it’s not that different from our world now. Some cops are dirty, some criminals kill for fun. These aren’t tropes of the past world, but our reality now. Let’s stop assuming that women aren’t strong enough for these. Sensitivity isn’t gendered.

 

 

“The rule is, be a man, be tough, and always keep the party going.” Ugh. Could he be any more of a bro? I’m tired of people who can’t look deeper than ‘let’s party’, with no offense to Andrew W.K. whom I love and adore – he’s allowed to talk about partying 24/7. Unless you are him, please use your brain for more than five minutes to examine that Martin Scorsese creates imperfect worlds that convey a culture most Americans don’t really understand. He gives us a glimpse into a life that few live, but those who do live fully. He gives us glimpses of humanity, or lack thereof, outside our everyday experiences. Isn’t that something we can all be interested in?

 

 

I fully recognize that there are plenty of problems in Goodfellas. The rotating narrative between Henry and Karen is off-putting, the acting is completely over the top in parts, and the film is definitely dated. But Joe Pesci is never better and I’ll love this imperfect film for the rest of my days. I want to live in a world where films aren’t believed to be for “men only” or “women only”. Plenty of men love and value works by women. Why do we assume that men can understand what women write, but women can’t understand what men write? Men can appreciate stories about women and vice versa. A divide between the sexes in writing and film shows the underlying sexism that is prevalent. Here’s an idea: Create films that tell good stories and you will find a faithful audience.

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