The 1983 crime film Scarface quickly became one of America’s most iconic cinematic productions. It tells the story of Cuban immigrant Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino who comes to Miami in the 80s after Fidel Castro opens the harbor at Mariel, Cuba, sending thousands of Cuban refugees to the United States. Tony Montana is determined to accomplish the American dream. He eventually meets a drug kingpin and establishes a prominent drug empire in Miami with his friend Manny. The film was criticized at its initial release due to excessive violence and explicit language. Many groups, however, including those in poverty and racial minorities, took to the film immediately. Perhaps surprisingly, black men and youth especially were attracted to the character Tony Montana and his ability to rise above cultural barriers and become successful.
As Scarface rose to popularity in the 80s, so did another art form, hip-hop music. This form of musical expression also spoke to African American men and youth, giving voice to those in poverty who were previously unheard in places like the Bronx in New York. Major themes in this music genre are the achievement of the American dream, being a powerful leader and being able to provide for ones family. These themes reflect not only the already present cultural pressures in the lives of poor African Americans as they struggle to support their families and make ends meet, but also the values of Tony Montana in Scarface.
After the release of Scarface, many hip-hop artists began to reference Tony Montana in their music, often with a sense of admiration and great respect. This phenomenon continues to this day. Tony Montana is respected for creating a huge drug empire and defying the United States government. Famous rapper Nas has a song titled “The World Is Yours” based on the motto Tony Montana lived by. More recently, in the song Love Sosa, Chief Keef compares himself to Sosa, the powerful drug lord who was the one that made Tony Montana rich and got him killed in the end.
Hip Hop’s and larger society’s obsession with the tale of Tony Montana is indicative of the universality of the American Dream. The ability to rise up socially or economically using just natural cunning and intelligence means that anyone, regardless of race or money, can be successful in America. This dream ideal shines as a beacon of hope for the underprivileged masses in the United States, affording them the opportunity for equality and success.
However, the tale of Tony Montana becomes dangerous upon further inspection. Towards the end of the film, Tony becomes obsessed with the material, his possessive nature ruining his relationship with his wife and eventually causing him to kill his best friend Manny. In the end, he goes against the advice to “fly straight” and his materialistic values literally kill him. He dies in his great gold mansion without his best friend or any family who still care. This film, though it has been used as a symbol of success in many cultural expressions, is actually a criticism of the powers of materialism in the American Dream ideal.