Copyright 2004 news.yahoo.com

[ October 6th 2004 ]

Italian American groups opened fire on movie mogul Steven Spielberg and star Robert DeNiro for what they say is a racist portrayal of Mafiosi sharks in the animated movie Shark Tale. Organisations representing Americans of Italian descent and anti-discrimination groups called for a boycott of the hit children's film and accused its makers and stars of promoting violence and racial stereotyping. The Dreamworks studios movie which opened Friday and took a whopping 47.6 million dollars in its debut weekend, tells the story of a Mafia family of sharks, led by patriarch Don Dino - voiced by DeNiro. The film also used the voices Italian-American filmmaker Martin Scorsese, actor Will Smith and screen beauty Angelina Jolie.

But Italian-Americans are sensitive about the decades-old on-screen portrayal of gangsters as Italian-accented thugs. "In Shark Tale, bad guys are identified by Italian and Italian-American names, such as Lino and Luca, and by their use of Italian-American phrases of speech and slang," said Lawrence Auriana of the Italian group, the Columbus Citizens Foundation. The movie introduces a new generation of children to the idea that people with Italian names - like millions of Americans across the country - are gangsters. Spielberg is looking to make a profit from the mafia genre at the expense of innocent children who are inculcated with prejudice from negative ethnic stereotyping," he said.

The Coalition Against Racial, Religious and Ethnic Stereotyping also weighed in against the movie made by Dreamworks studios, which was co-founded by Spielberg. "The gangster-fish have Italian names and prey on the weaker fish," she said, adding that her group had appealed to Dreamworks to remove Italian expressions from the film's dialogue. "Since our requests fell on deaf ears, we are calling for a boycott of the film" and its corporate sponsors including soft drink giant Coca-Cola, fast food chain Burger King, said De Sanctis.

A leading Italian American group last month protested to Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi asking that he withdraw the honorary Italian citizenship that the country bestowed on DeNiro, who starred in the classic Mafia movie The Godfather II. The government rejected the plea.

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