- The fourth season of FX’s Fargo premieres this weekend.
- The series is inspired by the Coen Brothers film of the same name, reportedly about a “true story.”
- Is Fargo a true story? Is the movie and TV show actually based on anything?
FX’s Fargo returns for a fourth season, starring Chris Rock and featuring 1950’s Kansas City, Missouri. Like it’s previous seasons, the series touches on real historical happenings. In season 4, these features include the midcentury migration to the the midwest, where immigrants from Europe (notably Italy) and Black American southerners, escaping racism and Jim Crow, traveled to settle.
Real too are the crime syndicates in Kansas City. Anthony Gizzo and Nicholas Civella, for instance, were two Italian mafiasos aligned with Cosa Nostra crime families. Civella even became prominent leaders in the Kansas City arm of the Sicilian mafia. A key piece of Season 4 focuses on The Fadda Family, a fictional Kansas City crime syndicate (including the hot-heated Josto Fadda, played by Jason Schwartzman).
As for how true the rest of Fargo’s “true story” remains, well, there’s a lot of not-so-true history there.
Is Fargo based on a true story?
Inspired by Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film of the same name, FX’s Fargo furthers the icy midwestern saga. And just like its predecessor, the series plays fast and loose when it comes to the (let’s say) truthiness of the story: backstabbing, murder, and a briefcase filled with $ 1 million dollars (or so) buried somewhere along the freeway.
There’s even an urban legend in which a Japanese woman, Takako Konishi, found dead in Fargo in 2001, had actually just gone looking for the buried treasure from the movie—in an art imitates life imitates art kind of moment.
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Part of the confusion no doubt has to do with the text screen, which opens both the film and each season of the TV series and makes this cheeky claim:
“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 2006/ 1979/ 2010 (depending on what season it is). At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
The language of the message is obviously mocking; it pokes fun of true-life disclaimers by purposefully muffing up an “respect” for the survivors. It’s the dead who get what they want.
Executive producer Noah Hawley, however, settled the matter for his series by saying: “I can’t speak to the movie. But the show…It’s all just made up. The whole cloth. I didn’t go looking for true crime. It started from a character standpoint and everything grew organically out of that.”
Still, there are elements of reality (or rather, truthiness) to the story. Directors Joel and Ethan Coen have said that they based their central auto defrauding scheme on a real-life case. And then there was the woodchipper murder, an actual homicide, which inspired perhaps the most famous moment in the film. (The woodchipper makes an appearance in the series as well, but more so as a film homage.)
In Season 4, the show also depicts discrimination of the era; the central story takes place in 1950, where a conflict between The Fadda Family (the Italian syndicate) and The Cannon Limited (the Black syndicate) comes into scope. Both groups are shown to be discriminated against (from dismissive language to outright refusal to be treated at a “private hospital”), which of course in the post-WWII era was extremely prevalent.
So, just to clear things up: the money and treasure are all fake but the bloody murdering is mostly real? That’s right.
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