Pervasive drug use; violent gunplay; brazen double crosses; battles against the FBI; illegal money-making schemes; bloody beat downs. It all sounds like scenes taken from legendary director Martin Scorsese’s landmark 1990 film Goodfellas. But you don’t have to be part of the infamous Lucchese crime family to be involved in such outrageous, illegal behavior.
In Scorsese’s upcoming film The Wolf of Wall Street (set for release Dec. 25), street hoodlum Henry Hill is replaced by stockbroker Jordan Belfort, a real-life financial player who went to prison for money laundering and defrauding investors with fake stock sales. Belfort, played with much conviction by Oscar-nominated actor Leo DiCaprio, snorts coke off of prostitutes backsides, pops Quaaludes like vitamins, engages in dwarf-tossing and orgies at the workplace all while heading up a brokerage firm that at it’s '90s height was involved in stock issues of more than $1 billion.
But Scorsese points out that there is a fundamental reason why such abhorrent financial criminal behavior on Wall Street—which years later contributed heavily to the 2008 economic global meltdown—is often times not viewed in the same light as organized street crime.
“Well, they are respectable…they have the veneer of respectability,” Scorsese tells VIBE. “I won’t say all of [Wall Street] are in terms of being negative people. I think there is a kind mythology about the honor among thieves to a certain extent. Goodfellas shows that maybe it’s not. I guess it’s more of a primal level in the street. You promise something to somebody, you have a situation where it’s a matter of respecting each other; it’s different…it’s face-to-face. But [with the people in Wolf of Wall Street], nobody knows where the hand comes from. You can do it with the stroke of a pen. And it’s more insidious I think.”
Just how insidious? Terence Winter, the man behind such critically-acclaimed shows as The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, wrote the screenplay for Wolf of Wall Street, based on the best-selling Belfort memoir of the same name. Winter offers an ironic story that captures the sheer shameless behavior that permeated Wall Street in the no-holds-barred era of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
“It was the chairman of the National Association of Securities Dealers who, when Jordan was arrested in the late ‘90s, came out and railed against him saying, ‘This guy is the reason Wall Street has a black-eye. People like Jordan Belfort should be in jail forever,’” recalls Winter. "This was Bernie Madoff.”
And yet as debate still rages on about how much regulation is needed to ensure that Wall Street stays on the straight and narrow, DiCaprio tells VIBE that it’s important to remember who the real big players are.
“Interestingly enough when I was not knowing a lot about the world of finance and Wall Street going into this, what I quickly realized is these weren’t the fat cats that were destroying our economy,” he says of Belfort and his acolytes. “These were the street urchins; these were the guys from the underworld that were trying to create a little island and emulate Gordon Gekko. They were trying to be the guys that were really simultaneously robbing our country of billions of billions of dollars.”—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)