Last night, I had a movie night with my husband. Admittedly, I normally dread when he asks me to pick a movie. I know he is being kind, but honestly the movies I really want to watch are the ones that make me think or feel. I like words. Contemplation. Connection. I think my husband generally prefers content with a little less dialogue and a little more activity. So when I saw Rambo 5: Last Blood (2019) in Amazon’s Prime Video movie list, it seemed a perfect choice. Action for him. Nostalgia for me.
After Creed I, I had heard that Sylvester Stallone was going to bring back Rambo. Though First Blood was released the year I was born, I remember watching snippets of it on Ms. Brown’s (my in-home daycare provider) television set when I was about 3 or 4. I likely didn’t understand Rambo then, but Stallone has been with me my entire life.
Stallone, Willis, Van Damme, the action heros of my era. This is why I actually invested time and money in all three–yes all three of The Expendables. Relationship takes commitment people!
As I watched this aged version of a superhero onscreen, I couldn’t help but feel pride. Sylvester Stallone’s story is quite an impressive one. I’d say it’s an American one.
The son of an Italian and French immigrant, Sly grew up in what was likely a working class household. His father was a hair stylist. His mother worked many jobs. Today, we think in terms of Black and White, but forget that Italians were often looked down upon from the time they arrived on American soil in the 19th century. Believe it or not, Italians, specifically those of Sicilian ancestry were considered too dark. So dark, they were called niggers too. (sigh. . .American racism)
I can’t be sure if this history along with the the typecasting of Italians, played a role in the industry’s reluctance to give Sly a chance, but I wonder. He played the background character in a few films, but his breakthrough film was a screenplay he wrote in three days about a character named Rocky Balboa. United Artists was interested in the script, but wanted to cast a different lead, Redford or Burton. Stallone stood his ground and was willing to sacrifice a low budget so that he can be the lead in a story he created. As we know, that worked out well for him. Rocky I received many academy award nominations, winning best director, film editing, and best picture in 1976. The film evolved into a franchise with seven films including Creed I and Creed II. Rambo was another story Sylvester Stallone created and co-wrote, with five in the franchise including Last Blood. Here he was, 38 years later, at age 72, severing heads, chopping off legs, and stabbing nefarious characters in the chest. What is so inspiring about this you may ask?
While there are many other and perhaps better examples, Stallone is an embodiment of the master narrative upon which the American Dream rests. Concepts like the protestant work ethic and rugged individualism speak to the American values of self-determination, self-motivation, and perseverance. Pushing ourselves beyond extenuating and difficult circumstances to reach the top is the classic Horatio Alger story which invigorates the American spirit. Stallone, himself had a hard upbringing and faced many physical challenges, and like his beloved character Rocky, prevailed against the turmoil and found success. While the ideologies which support the ideal of the American Dream are more of a myth because it does not account for the reality of systemic discrimination and privileges of social capital, Stallone’s story is exemplary of an immigrant experience in the United States. It is likely the story of many immigrants and their children who come to the States in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness initially preserved for the “good whites” and denied to people of color, yes even Italians at one point. But the immigrant spirit is a fighting one. One that inadvertently embodies the aspirations of the American ideal. At the time Rocky I was being filmed, Stallone had about $100 to his name. Thank goodness for immigrants and their children who remind U.S. of who we want to be.
This could just be the nostalgia talking, but I think Sylvester Stallone hasn’t received the accolades he deserves. About 15 years after Rocky and Rambo, Stallone earned 8 Raspberry awards for Worst Actor of the Decade. Thirty years after creating Rocky, Stallone ultimately won best supporting actor for his role in the spin-off, Creed starring lead Michael B. Jordan (an African American) during the #OscarSoWhite controversy. With a collective total of almost 20 Raspberry awards, one might easily mistake Stallone as irrelevant, but he is anything but that. Sly has over 60 actor credits, over 30 writing credits, and has directed 8 films, but none compare to the contribution of his voice in the art of storytelling, which likely earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just 8 years after the first Rocky. As an unknown actor, Sly unabashedly took creative control of a story that not only resonates with underdogs of every hue around the world, but captures the essence of what it means to be American.
Going against the odds. Betting on yourself. Making room for yourself at the table, persevering through hardships to reach your personal definition of success, and doing so until “you can’t ride no more” should be called Stalloning it. No?
Be on the look out for Expendables 4. Yes….there is another one coming. Sylvester Stallone will be 74 years old by then.