Louis D’Esposito is one of the primary producers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the co-president of Marvel Studios. His family is originally from Torre del Greco, Naples, and two of the franchise’s greatest directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, are also of Italian heritage.
Along with their sister, Angela Russo-Otstot, they have conceived and organized the Renaissance Award and the Russo Brothers Italian-American Filmmaker Forum (RBIAFF), with support from the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian-American Organizations (COPOMIAO), led by their father, Judge Basil M. Russo.
On January 18th in Los Angeles, the Russo Brothers Italian-American Filmmaker Forum (RBIAFF) presented its first Renaissance Award to Marvel Studios Co-President Louis D’Esposito, who became the first Italian-American to receive this award designed for Italian-Americans who have distinguished themselves in the entertainment industry. “From his roots in the Bronx to his monumental achievements with Marvel Studios, Louis D’Esposito’s career is a symbol of foresight, dedication, and unparalleled success. It is a journey that mirrors the ethos of the Italian-American dream: stemming from parents who were children of the Great Depression, to pursuing a career in the entertainment world,” Joe Russo said on stage before handing over the award, a Murano glass artwork, to D’Esposito.
Louis D’Esposito made a significant impact in his over-three-decade-long career in the entertainment industry. Under his stewardship, Marvel Studios made 33 films that grossed nearly $30B worldwide, including 10 that achieved the billion-dollar milestone. Movies such as Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War, both of which were directed by the Russo Brothers and co-written by AGBO Co-Presidents of Story Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, surpassed the two-billion-dollar mark, solidifying Marvel’s monumental impact on the cinematic landscape.
“During the filming of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we shot in Cleveland for a while, the city where the Russo Brothers were born and raised. It’s here that I formed a close bond with them, got to know their parents, their wives, their children; they became my extended family,” Louis D’Esposito said about his working experience on set with the Russo brothers, whom he first met in 2012 in Kevin Feige’s office. “I didn’t just meet them; I truly got to know them. We spent the rest of the year together. I heard the stories of their adolescence and absorbed the love and camaraderie they shared. They reminded me of my childhood, my family, and my friends. And that’s where it all began. It’s here that we bonded through our common love for cinema and our cultural heritage.”
“Joe and I have shared some of life’s most meaningful moments sitting at tables with grandparents, cousins, children, and friends, listening to and exchanging the stories of their immigrant experiences. It’s a profound and impactful experience to leave a place where your family has roots for generations, especially when poverty and lack of opportunities force you to venture far away. Traveling halfway across the world to an unfamiliar land where you don’t speak the language and have limited resources is a daunting journey. But the only things you carry with you are the hope for a better life and the determination to keep pushing forward until you achieve it. This journey embodies the hero’s quest, the most epic form of storytelling,” Anthony Russo passionately stated on stage. “When you hear these stories from the people you hold dear, they become ingrained in your soul, forming a fundamental part of your identity. This is why Italian Americans have played such a significant role, not just in America but also in Hollywood. We comprehend the power of storytelling and its profound impact on our lives and community. Tonight, we celebrated the profound connection between the Italian American experience and the world of cinema.”
For the Russo Brothers, cinema also encompasses AGBO, an Oscar-winning independent studio they founded in 2017. AGBO focuses on the development and production of content spanning across film, TV, games, and publishing. Its mission is to innovate and advance the next generation of storytelling to entertain and inspire a global audience. Recent AGBO productions include the Oscar-winning Best Picture Everything Everywhere All At Once, Netflix’s The Gray Man, Amazon’s thriller series Citadel, and the Netflix sequel Extraction 2, featuring Chris Hemsworth.
The new Russo Brothers Italian American Filmmaker Forum (RBIAFF) is a scholarship program that provides grants for production to emerging directors aiming to create screen stories that illuminate aspects of the Italian American experience. The top five candidates will receive a grant to produce a short film based on their concept. The winning film will be selected by a selection committee comprising AGBO executives and ISDA leadership. The winning director will receive an additional $10,000 and admission to the AGBO Storyteller’s Collective. “The new Filmmaker Forum will reshape the landscape of Italian American storytelling on the big screen while honoring and supporting our culture, history, and heritage. The program has awarded over $400,000 in grants to 47 directors so far,” said ISDA National President Basil Russo, who co-developed the RBIAFF.
In the audience at the ceremony were also Consul General Raffaella Valentini, ICE Los Angeles director Alessandra Rainaldi, and IIC Los Angeles director Emanuele Amendola.
On stage, Consul Valentini said that “being an Italian citizen means embracing a heritage, sharing emotions, it’s a declaration of love for our country but also a pledge.” She continued underlining how “the ties between Italy and the United States are countless but, more than anything, they are made of human relations and friendships, values that rely on and are nurtured every day by Italian-Americans like Mr. Louis D’Esposito.”
Always in the audience were Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista, of Guardians of the Galaxy; Joe Piscopo, Saturday Night Live alumn and radio show host; actor Michael Badalucco; singer Lena Prima, daughter of Louis Prima; and Frankie Valli, the great rock crooner.
Actor, writer, and director, Jon Favreau, who is Italian on his father’s side, was also there to present the Renaissance Award to Louis D’Esposito. It was Favreau who directed Iron Man and recruited D’Esposito as the film’s producer. At that time, D’Esposito had already produced dozens of films such as Basic Instinct, The Pursuit of Happiness, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Sweet Home Alabama. Thanks to the success of Iron Man D’Esposito continued to serve as an executive producer for subsequent Marvel films. He later became the co-president of Marvel Studios, sharing the role with Kevin Feige.
Upon receiving this year’s Renaissance Award, D’Esposito paid tribute to his Italian-American heritage, which he absorbed while growing up in the “real Little Italy of New York” along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. “Since I was a boy, I’ve always been immersed in Italian culture, but I didn’t visit Italy. I went there at the age of 40, quite late in life, but I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the country, the people, the food, the culture, the history. I felt like I was at home.”