Legendary Nintendo Designer Reveals Mario’s ‘True’ Ethnicity
"He isn't Italian."
A former Nintendo employee credited for developing the company’s first home console has shed light on the true ethnicity of Mario this month.
Since the character’s debut in the “Super Mario Bros.” franchise in the late 1980s, many assumed that he must be Italian.
Sporting dark hair and a dark mustache, Mario, however, originally appeared as a carpenter called “Jumpman” in “Donkey Kong,” which came out years earlier.
When “Donkey Kong” came to the U.S., Nintendo’s American division renamed him Mario, after their Italian American landlord Mario Segale, who reportedly looked like the character.
Mario’s Italian attributes were corroborated by the introduction of his brother, Luigi.
“Luigi,” a given name for males, is said to be the Italian form of the German “Ludwig,” through the Latin “Ludovicus,” which corresponds to the French “Louis” and its anglicized variant “Lewis.”
In 1989, American TV series “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” introduced Mario (Lou Albano) and Luigi (Danny Wells) as Italian American plumbers from Brooklyn.
Then, in the early 1990s, Nintendo of America hired Charles Martinet to voice Mario in the “Super Mario” games, with directors stating in his audition, “You’re an Italian plumber from Brooklyn.”
Despite what seems to be established for the character, it must be pointed out that Nintendo has never declared Mario’s official ethnicity.
This is where Masayuki Uemura’s knowledge comes in as the engineer behind the Family Computer, the company’s first cartridge-based game system also known as the Famicom or the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
In a recently-published interview with Kotaku, Uemura revealed Mario’s ethnicity at the time of his creation.
“‘Super Mario Bros.’ isn’t set in Japan, but the character’s Japanese. The name Mario sounds Italian, but he isn’t Italian. They were really able to capture that ambiguity,” Uemura said.
Uemura retired from Nintendo in 2004. Without the company’s official announcement, the idea of Mario being Japanese is still best taken with a grain of salt.
But while the character remains Italian to those who care, it pays to acknowledge that this ethnicity is a product of evolution. As Quora user J.J. McCullough put it: “Basically, the long and short of it is that Mario’s Italianness was never really planned by anyone, but sort of organically evolved.”
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