"Based on promotional information, the proposed animated film, tentatively entitled "Shark Tale" does not seem to promote cultural tolerance and diversity, and may in fact propagate stereotypes that defame the Italian American community. The possibility that these stereotypes would be presented to children, albeit in animated an representative form, is very troubling in light of the fact that children are just starting to form their perceptions and values of others. The proposed concept for this film seems strikingly at odds with the works DreamWorks has previously undertaken. I hope that the concerns of the Italian American community will be taken into account, and that the approach of this project will be reconsidered".
- Thomas P. DiNapoli, Assemblyman, 16th District, State of New York
"Today, we live in a politically enlightened age where racial and religious profiling and ethnic stereotyping are rightfully denounced by all. Society rejects derogatory generalizations and guilt by association. Indeed, we celebrate the cultural diversity and mosaic that makes up our American society.
How sad it is when the entertainment industry continues to perpetuate a negative image of one particular ethnic group: Italian Americans. And how wrong and disturbing it is when such denigration is presented as entertainment to the most impressionable...our children. Nevertheless, this appears to be exactly what DreamWorks is doing with the anticipated film, Shark Tale. Set underwater, this animated movie is expected to portray the subterranean sea world life of organized crime. Not satisfied to merely tell the story, the mob-like characters are given Italian surnames, lest we fail to comprehend what this "children's movie" is really about.
Directed at children and negatively portraying one ethnic group, one may only speculate as to Dreamworks' motivation. Is it to imply tat only Italian Americans are involved in organized crime, or is it to teach young people that Italian Americans as an ethnic group are not law-abiding citizens? Whatever the reason, one cannot justify defaming an entire ethnic group to advance a children's story. Certainly, the film's success will not depend upon the surnames of the characters. That being so, I call upon Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg to eliminate references and implications that the mob characters belong to any ethnic group.
The entertainment industry has a particular responsibility to promote diversity and tolerance for all. I urge DreamWorks to review Shark Tale and eliminate the offensive characterizations and present a true childrens' film".
-Vincent T. Muscarella, Legislator, District Eight, Nassau County Legislature, New York.
"Dear Steven Spielberg:
As an Italian American admirer of yours, I am deeply disappointed to learn about a new DreamWorks cartoon, Shark Tale, which features Italian mobster characters. In a recent Zogby poll, it was revealed that of all ethnic groups, Italian American stereotypes were the most likely to be accepted by American teenagers (78%).
Similarly, a poll conducted by the Research Analysis Corporation of New Jersey showed that 74% of all Americans associate Italian surnames with organized crime.
I have included the results of both research studies.
According to the F.B.I.'s own numbers, however, Italians in organized crime comprise less than .0078% of the entire Italian American community of 16 million.
As a filmmaker, surely you realize that a film like Shark Tale will introduce this prejudice to a whole new generation of filmgoers.
I urge you to reject the unfair and untrue stereotyping of Italian Americans."
Michael J. Polelle, Professor of Media Law, John Marshall Law School, Chicago
"It's amazing to think that, in the 30 years since the 'Godfather' films, not a single dent has been made in the public consciousness regarding Americans of Italian descent. We're still seen as 'the mafia people.' And now, sadly, this same message is being peddled to children via Shark Tale. It just isn't right."
Dr. Joseph Giordano, psychologist and author ("Ethnicty and Family Therapy")
New York, November 24, 2003
"A media production which creates in Italian American children a self-image of inferiority or differentness from other children will impact them in the same way that black children were impacted by racial segregation in American schools prior to Brown vs. the Board of Ed (1954).
While the producers and actors of Shark Tale would never endorse segregation, for some reason they see no harm in pursuing its moral equivalent by creating a vehicle that will engender a negative self-image and self-hatred in a portion of their viewing audience---not to mention the cruel stereotype that the cartoon will implant in the minds of mainstream American children in general."
Professor Dominic Candeloro, Historian, Governor's State University
Olympia Fields, IL, December 16, 2003
"Al Capone may well be the most famous criminal in history. But that has obscured, rather than clarified, our understanding of the nature of his influence within the underworld or within the political system of Chicago in the 1920s. Many scholarly treatments---and almost all of the popular treatments---grossly exaggerate his wealth. Although Chicago was a city of 50 wards (and the coalition of criminal entrepreneurs associated with him was active in several suburbs), Capone is dealt with as though he controlled the government of Chicago. Finally, nearly all treatments of his life simply assume that he was the boss of a largely hierarchical and powerful criminal and bootlegging operation.
In reality, in examining such varied activities as gambling, prostitution, loansharking and drug trafficking (including bootlegging) from the Civil War to the present, I have found that 'partnerships' were the basic means by which persons in illegal enterprises operated. The partnership was, not surprisingly, the basic structure within which Capone operated..."
Professor Mark Haller, Department of History and Criminal Justice, Temple University, Philadelphia
"Al Capone: The True Story," in a paper delivered to the Social Science History Association
Chicago, IL, November 15-18, 2001
January 9, 2004
Mr. Steven Spielberg
PO Box 8520
Universal City, CA 91608
Dear Mr. Spielberg,
I am writing to you to express my concerns about an upcoming children's animated film entitled Shark Tale. As a Congressman of Italian descent and an American proud of our nation's cultural diversity, I have strong feelings about the negative presentation of Italian Americans in the media. News reports suggest that Shark Tale will further this stereotypical perception.
The Italian American community is comprised of 25 million diverse people, making it the fifth largest ethnic group in the nation. Yet all too often, our heritage and culture goes unnoticed, or is the subject of gross misrepresentation. The media saturates the public with images depicting only the worse stereotypes. A recent poll reported that 78% of teens associate Italians with blue-collar jobs or the mob, as do 74% of the adults. Reality suggests something quite different. In fact, less than .0025% of Italian Americans are involved in organized crime, according to the Justice Department, while 67% work in white-collar jobs. While these stereotypes are encouraged by popular shows and films, I fear they will be further and needlessly promoted to our youth with Shark Tale. There is nothing to be gained by teaching our children prejudices of any group. Rather, we will continue to pay the cost of fear and discrimination.
I am a great admirer of your work. Your past experience in promoting cultural awareness and diversity, especially in your pursuit of Holocaust awareness, are especially laudatory. However, as a responsible filmmaker and American, I would urge you to see that cultural sensitivities are considered before the production of Shark Tale is completed.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. If I may be of assistance to you in the future, please feel free to let me know.
Bill Pascrell Jr.
Member of Congress
25 December, 2003
Attn: Steven Spielberg, CEO,
100 Universal City Plaza, Building 10, Universal City, CA 91608
Phone: (818) 733-7000 Fax: (818) 733-7574
Dear Mr. Spielberg:
I am chair of Film Studies at Purdue University and have been a great admirer of yours since I first saw Duel far too many years ago.
I am writing to you now because Italian-American friends of mine have asked me to join them in entreating you to not continue the defamation of Italian Americans by further stigmatizing them in Shark Tale as somehow being involved in organized crime, particularly in a film directed primarily at impressionable children.
You must by now unquestionably have read and/or heard all the arguments pro and con the depiction of Italian Americans as Mafiosi. Rather than repeat their arguments, I will tell you of my experience.
Some years back during a class discussion of The Godfather, one student asked another, who had an Italian-American surname, if he was connected.” Everyone laughed, and then someone else said, “they all are.” More general laughter ensued. I must confess, I too laughed. I thought the students were joking. I thought everyone knew that movies are not history. I let the matter drop and forgot about it until, later that week, during office hours, an Italian American student expressed concern and irritation at the assumption underlying the classroom repartee. I told him that there is no statistical justification for such assumptions and assured him that his classmates were only kidding, pointing out that several of his Italian-American classmates took part and did rather plausible imitations of various characters in the film.
After he left, however, I began to wonder what students really thought on the issue. The following day I asked my students to tell me, anonymously, in writing, what percentage of Italian Americans were, in their opinion, connected to Organized Crime. The answers ranged between 1% and 70%! I have repeated this quiz every year since that first time, and every year I come up with similar results. Even if we skip my students’ astonishing innumeracy (by which I too am afflicted), these figures are shocking and reveal the depth and breadth of this prejudice—even among Italian American students.
By most accounts, there are roughly 15 million Italian Americans. Thus, according to my students, generally bright young women and men at a major research university, between 150,000 and 10,500,000 Italian Americans belong to the Mafia!
To give you a sense of the size and absurdity of these numbers, if they were not immediately apparent, consider that we have somewhat fewer than 150,000 military personnel in Iraq. The entire US Army has roughly 500,000 men and women—thus one 20th of the size of the Mafia according to some. The largest military in the world, the Chinese, has around 2,500,000 members—that is, it is roughly one fourth the size of the Italian American Mafia! In other words, when all is said and done, according to some students, there are more Italian Americans in the Mafia than in all the major armies of the world—combined!!!
This is clearly insane. But, exactly how insane is it? Let me count the ways—and please bear with me as I furnish the figures. A recent publication of the Italic Studies Institute points out that, while the total number of Italian Americans was 14.7 million according to the 1990 U.S. Census, the total number of Italian criminals were less than 5,000, according to 1999 FBI statistics. The study goes on to point out that historically, “Italian gang members never numbered more than 5,000, which amounts to less than .03% of the overall Italian-American community.” 5000, not 150,000 or 10,500,000. Other reports seem to suggest that even these figures are inflated. Justin Dintino, citing figures taken from the President’s Commission on Organized Crime, stated that in 1986 there were only “seventeen hundred members of the La Cosa Nostra in this country,” out of a total of approximately “five hundred thousand” members of organized crime nationwide (NIAF 1986). In other words, “when you look at the total number of L.C.N. members and you divide it into five hundred thousand, the L.C.N. is one-twenty-fifth of the organized crime members in this country.” He concludes by pointing out that, in fact, the members of L.C.N., “many of whom are not Italians,” in fact constitute only .01% of Italian Americans.
Not only are Italian Americans not connected to crime in any statistically significant manner, historically, as a whole, they have always been extremely hard working, law abiding citizens. By 1974 the average family income of Italian Americans was above that of Baptists, British Protestants, and Episcopalians, among others. They were surpassed only by Irish Catholics and Jewish Americans.
When one contrasts these facts with the depiction of Italian Americans in American movies as reported by the Italic Studies Institute, one can’t but be astonished, to say the very least:
Total Italian related films since sound era (1928) 1057
Films which portray Italians in a positive light 287 (27%)
Films which portray Italians in a negative light 770 (73%)
Individual categories 1057
Mob characters 422(40%)
(Real mob characters) 59 (14%)
(Fake mob characters) 363 (86%)
Boors, buffoons, bigots or bimbos 348 (33%)
Positive or complex portrayals 287 (27%)
Influence of The Godfather (1972)
Mob movies before The Godfather 108 (25%)
Mob movies after The Godfather 314 (75%)” (Italic Studies 2000)
These figures and these general conclusions are echoed in a study by William Dal Cerro published in The Italic Way. The author looked at some 450 films which feature images of Italians and Italian Americans, starting with Little Caesar in 1931, and found that 88% stereotyped and caricatured Italian Americans. He further breaks down the depiction of Italian Americans in film as follows: positive characters, 12%; mob characters, 52%; boors, buffoons, bigots, 36%.
One can adduce many reasons to explain the discrepancy between the realities of organized crime as they relate to various ethnic groups, as much as these realities can be determined, and their cultural construction in relation to and by various ethnic groups.
However, the bottom line is rather simple and easy to determine. The construction of the image of Italian Americans as mob characters, beasts, boors, bimbos, and buffoons is predicated almost entirely on their depiction in movies and television. This depiction began in the 1930s with Little Caesar and Scarface and continues to this day.
There was a time when it was acceptable to defame various races and ethnic groups: African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, Irish Americans, Polish Americans, Swedish Americans, “Southern Rednecks,” etc. Now, fortunately, much more balanced portrayals have become the norm—except where Italian Americans and “Southern Rednecks” are concerned.
The Italian American individuals and organizations that are writing to you and David Chase and others, are not crying for censorship. They are not even requesting that Italian Americans never be depicted as criminals. They are merely asking for a somewhat more balanced representation.
As one of my students wrote, after reflecting on the contrast between the results of the class poll and historical reality: Another problem is that a large number of organized crime films focus on Italian Americans. This leads the public to assume that most organized crime is done by Italian Americans. Once again this is unfair to Italian Americans because only 0.3% of the members of organized crime are Italian Americans. To be proportional, only 1 out of 1,000 movies about organized crime should be about Italian Americans and this is clearly not the case.” As a Jewish American you know how damaging and how persistent the defamation of a people can be, even if predicated on complete fabrications. We are seeing the effects of anti-Semitic slurs in Europe on an almost daily basis, and just today a friend sent me a link to a site that contains “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”!
Organized crime movies, like Westerns, have become a genre. However, it is no longer acceptable to depict Native Americans and Hispanic Americans as “redskin” and “meskin” “bad guys.” It should also no longer be acceptable to depict Italian Americans as “wops” and “dagos” and as the permanent “bad guys” in OC films.
Chair Film/Video Studies
Chair, Italian Studies
Dept of Foreign Languages and Literatures
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Dear Mr. Spielberg:
I am writing to you as one of the principals of DreamWorks, in protest of your planned release of the animated full length cartoon tentatively titled Shark Tale.
I am an Italian-American lawyer in Chicago with three children ages 3, 9 and 12. Recently, I explained to the older two children that I was angry with your company’s depiction of Italians in this movie and planned to tell you about it and to encourage others to protest its release. This, of course, required me to begin to explain the sad world of ethnic stereotyping for not only Italians, but for the Jews, Irish, African-Americans, and other ethnic groups. By the way, my kids are Jewish and Anglo-Saxon as well as Italian. I realize that this education would have been necessary at some point regardless of this particular portrayal of Italians, but I never thought it would be in the context of a cartoon aimed at the most vulnerable and innocent of our society. My children, especially the oldest, Natalie, just couldn’t understand why you would do this–it really was beyond her understanding and her standards of how people should treat each other.
I have a request, Mr. Spielberg. If you have small children, and I think you do (include your young nieces and nephews as well), please explain to them at an important and meaningful family gathering, like a bar mitzvah celebration, your motivation for allowing, and profiting from, the characterization of the bad guys in this children’s cartoon as Italian. Tell them how proud you are of this movie and why children, especially Italian-American children, will enjoy and learn from it. Explain to them how it will influence our next generation of leaders in working with people of different cultures and experiences. And don’t forget to tell them how the depiction of the criminals as Italian was integral to the story line and how it contributed to the overall artistic vision of a movie-- about fish. Please tell them Mr. Spielberg. If possible, I would appreciate receiving a copy of what you said. Better yet, publish it in newspapers all over the country so we all can understand. Explain it to the children, Mr. Spielberg, explain it to all of us.
In a way, you have done me and the Italian-American community a favor by so clearly crossing the line of acceptable behavior with this movie. You have provided the raw, blatant, unapologetic ethnic derogation of Italians that will motivate Italian-Americans to protest this movie in mass and begin a sustaining effort to stamp out this trash. It also reveals, I believe, another side of you and DreamWorks that the public may not have known, but which I think will cause all Americans to see you and the movies you make in a very different light.
Do your part in stopping the cycle of ethnic stereotyping--don’t release this movie-- you have shown us that you have the power and creativity to contribute so much more.
Jack A. Pace
Dear Mr. Spielberg:
I write this letter to you with heavy heart, because DreamWorks has decided to air Shark Tale, what with its mobster fish sporting Italian names, to be viewed by children.
My heart is heavy because I believe you to be a sensitive and honest person who would not indulge in the slash-and-burn mentality of negative stereotyping of any people.
You have proven yourself to be a champion of the Jewish people and have done much to eradicate the negative stereotyping designed and carried out by madmen like Adolph Hitler and his henchmen against such a long suffering and noble people as the Jewish people. "Why?" I ask myself would a good and honest person like Steven Spielberg then perpetuate the disease of negative stereotyping of those of Italian ancestry? I have no answer; do you?
The releasing of Shark Tale to be viewed by children is doubly disturbing, for children do not have the capacity to not generalize. To the children watching such a negative stereotyping of mobster fish with Italian names, the only thing they will take away from their viewing of Shark Tale will be that those who have Italian names are mobsters. Have you not yourself sought in the case of your own children to protect them from the non sequitur fallacy of negative stereotyping and false generalization that would stain their young minds?
As with all of us, you too, are, thus, given a moment's reprieve at this last juncture before DreamWorks' production of Shark Tale is thrust upon the young minds of children. Which way will you choose? Will you choose the faux pas of negative stereotyping of those of Italian ancestry or will you emerge as a force majeure (superior force) in the realization that Shark Tale is not an innocent movie but, rather, more in the tradition of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation - except, perhaps, with Shark Tale being a bit more subtle in its message of negative stereotyping and false generalization.
Thus, the question you must answer is will you emerge the hero with one face, the face of Steven Spielberg, and join the march of the Hero with a Thousand Faces, spoken of so eloquently by your hero and mine, Joseph Campbell? Or, will you be the harpoon that delivers a destructive wound to the Great White Whale; i.e., one's own Kether or Higher Self that swims in the Shekinah or Divine Presence?
I trust you will choose to add your face and conscience to the Hero with a Thousand Faces that Joseph Campbell would expect you to choose.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana
It is obvious that you have a good memory regarding the past negative stereotypical machinations of Hitler and his ilk, as exhibited by the integrity and courage you showed in making the sensitive and powerful movie Schindler's List; therefore, I put my trust in your memory and integrity and your honesty that you will not do this injustice to the millions of Italian/Italian-Americans, by releasing Shark Tale upon the impressionable minds of children.
"An honest man's the noblest work of God."
-- Mark Twain
With much respect for your peerless past nobility,
CC: Andy Spahn
Italic Institute of America
I applaud the Italic Institute in their fight
against the release of Shark Tale...this is an extremely important battle
for me, and I think it is where Italian Americans finally draw the line in the
I fully support your efforts in the matter of Shark Tale.
Italian Culture Committee
Guglielmo Marconi Lodge # 2232
Order Sons of Italy in America
Please register me as a voice against Italian
discrimination, particularly against the proposed movie Shark Tale.
Because children can learn to discriminate against others at an early age, I feel that education is essential in fighting old stereotypes. Let's have some books and films that show the positive attributes and achievements of Italian Americans for a change.
Carol Marie Davis (nee Venuto)
My name is Samuel Granieri. I am a senior at DePaul
University majoring in Computer Science.
I was never fond of mob movies to begin with. I really do not want to see kids getting indoctrinated into Italians=mobsters thinking.
I would be glad to help and would be happy to hear from you soon.
Samuel Joseph Granieri, Jr
I would like to congratulate The Italic
Institute of American for its work on high lighting The Media's continual use
and abuse of Italians and Italian culture. I was directed to your website by an
email I received from Miss Francesca L'Orfano. I wish to add my name to your
list of concerned Italo-Canadians who object to stereotyping in the film
Shark Tale. I was not able to locate the appropriate area to add my name.
Received recent Founders' Log and info on Shark
Tale, will write letters and spread the word. Thanks for the opportunity and
so glad you're there!
As an Italian-American I was especially elated over
today's Sun-Times commentary by Stefano Esposito (1-5) pointing out that
Italian-Americans are upset over the pending release of Shark Tale that
pictures fish as Italian-American mob types.
Now that Hollywood has turned out hundreds of manufactured by a typewriter ribbon scripts depicting Italian-Americans in their "Reel" life as the ever omnipresent mobster, they may have decided that this theme is now threadbare and are now creating a new genre of mobsters as Italian-American fish.
Lest we forget, Finding Nemo, a fish story devoid of Italian-American criminal types did make money at the box office. Do we need a cheap imitation of this success at the expense of Italian-Americans who, statistically proven, can't live up to their Hollywood created criminal images in "Real" life as opposed to Hollywood’s "Reel" life depiction of us?
As an Italian American I would like to thank your
organization for trying to stem the tide of insidious Italian American
defamation. Your work is our only chance of ensuring a proud and unbiased future
for future generations of Italian Americans. I am in the process of joining the
Institute and will do my part by spreading your message and trying to enroll
other Italian Americans in the organization. Keep up the good work!
Nicholas J. Roti
Regarding the Sun Times article on the shark movie
where some of the mean sharks have Italian names as in mobster names. If there
is a petition I would like to sign or help combat this movie to change the
names. It’s about time the Italian community very publicly stands up to denounce
the image of us always as mobsters. We have given so much to the world and Italy
is a great country! So far no one seems to ever discuss or present this side of
Italy; only the criminal side.
December 17, 2003
Dear Mr. Spielberg:
I have just read of your possible production of a film called Shark Tale for children which will feature mafia-like shark characters with Italian family surnames.
Your name is very often prominently featured among numerous causes for various disadvantaged groups. It causes sadness and anger among many Italian Americans when Hollywood stereotypes our heritage time and time again over many decades solely for monetary gain. That your studio appears part of this problem in the light of your own involvement in other causes is a puzzle to me.
You are surely not ignorant of the concerns that I raise. To identify criminal cartoon figures with Italian surnames among an audience of America’s children strikes me as reprehensible.
Your own children, I believe, come from disparate backgrounds. Would you treat those backgrounds on film in stereotypical fashion as you are about to visit on my background?
John G. Villanella
I could not be in stronger agreement with you! This
movie will be another assault in a long line of assaults on Italian culture by
the media. One of the things that troubles me most is that children are being
told it's OK to hold racist feelings toward Italians and Italian Americans. It's
disgusting, destructive and sad!
Theresa Scotto McAteer, PHR
I spoke to you on the phone a few months ago on the
subject of offensive stereotypes. I have just read your A Call for Solidarity.
Please keep me informed of your actions and pass on any information you obtain
on Shark Tale and anything else relevant to this topic. I am chairperson
of the anti-bias committee of UNICO of Waterbury. I also was on a local Italian
radio program today talking about bias against Italians and mention your
organization and your campaign. I will be on that program every couple of
months. Please keep me informed and I'll do anything I can to support you!
Please add my name to the protestors of Mr.
Spielberg’s movie, Shark Tale.
December 5, 2003
As an Italian American and World War II veteran, I am offended with the Italian mobster inferences scheduled to appear in the animated Shark Tale film.
Unquestionably, a double standard exists.
Edmond Constantini Sr.
I just learned about the Shark Tale movie
being produced in Hollywood. I am 86 years old without a drop of Italian blood
in my veins. I too agree fully with the Italic Institute of America to keep this
film from future children seeing it.
Many of my wonderful friends are Italians who deserve the best. Not Shark Tale.
Anne E. Connolly
Dear Italic Institute of America:
Great article in the Chicago Sun-Times! If Hollywood ever made an animated spoof of Jews, Irish or African Americans, the story would never make it on film.
The Italian American community needs new and aggressive leadership. Please let me know if I can help in any way.
Dear Mr. Spielberg:
I am writing in regards to the movie Shark Tale. It has been brought to my attention, and confirmed through further research, that this animated film portrays Italian Americans negatively, even in a "light-hearted" form.
About 25 years ago, I read a news report which illustrated three ethnic groups in America who were continuously depicted poorly in movies and television
shows: Blacks, Puerto Ricans and Italians. The last were especially exaggerated, with their black leather jackets and/or always being seen as foolish or dumb.
No one took them seriously; in fact, many of these caricatures were criminals. Mobster movies were even worse. I don't have to explain why.
What really bothers me is how these images become "real" whenever people find out that I am of Italian descent. Almost immediately, they ask me, "Do you know
anyone in the mafia?" Sometimes they break out into a thick New York accent and say something like, "Hey, Joey, didja take care uh dat ting fo me?"
I laugh, but I wonder if they'd believe me if I told them that I don't know anyone who looks or talks like that. No one in my family is as ignorant and uneducated like those Italians in movies and on TV. No one in my family treats each other like the characters do on "The Sopranos."
My ancestors came to America in the late 19th century to provide a better life for their children. They were eager to become American citizens and immediately
learned English and adopted American customs. My grandparents and great-grandparents sacrificed and worked hard to assimilate, to be considered "American"
just like everyone else. They contributed so much to our shared American society.
Twenty five years later, images of blacks and Puerto Ricans have improved, but I can't say the same for Italians. There are better ways to portray us. Until then, "Shark Tale" is one film which my husband and I will not take our young children to see, and we will explain to them why.
Ruth Funaro Lopez
As a second generation Italian American, I am
continually appalled by the depiction of Italians in the popular media. Even my
11 year old daughter has noticed it: "Mom, the bad guys on shows always have
Italian names." This isn't even anything I've discussed with her!
I support your Institute's campaign against Shark Tale and hope to educate the public about the ethnic slurs heaped daily on Italian Americans by many unthinking and decidedly uncreative writers and filmmakers.
Joy Cascio Nash
We are so happy to have found an institute which supports
our ideas against the defamation of Italian Americans. We are in a battle not
only for our image
but for the future of our children, so that they don't have to grow up under this stigma which the media and popular culture constantly places on them.
Thank your for being there. More people should know about your organization.
Anna Salamone and Aldo Tambellini
Jan 30, 2004
Mr. Steven Spielberg
Universal City, California
Dear Mr. Spielberg -
I first became aware of "Shark Tale" when I saw a statement in USA Today announcing that the name of the movie had been changed, apparently to make it less ominous to its intended audience of children. This certainly seems like an inconsistent measure taken by DreamWorks, considering that by its very nature the movie virtually guarantees that many Italian-American children will be seriously harmed. I ask you - what about their sensibilities and feelings? At a time when we hear so much about "not leaving any child behind", Shark Tale will cause many Italian-American children to suffer hurt and humiliation. I ask you - what about their futures? We are told by DreamWorks not to judge the movie until we have seen it. I ask you - how many ways can this story be told, when all the villains are given Italian names, and possess all the stereotypical characteristics of organized crime thugs, without a clear message being conveyed to our children? The message will certainly be a very negative one, and will reinforce the all-too-prevalent distorted and unjust image that is being drilled into the consciousness of the public by the entertainment industry.
In Nazi Germany in the 30's and 40's, people were bombarded with propaganda concerning the Jews. The Jews were branded as "subhumans", and all the injustices shown toward them were therefore considered justified. We all know what the consequences of that evil persecution were. Your courageous movie, "Schindler's List", tells the story in very vivid detail. Now, over a half century later, we Italian Americans are witnessing the veritable persecution of our ethnic group by the power of the entertainment media to influence public perceptions. We have seen how movies like "The Godfather" have spawned what has been referred to as a "mafia industry". The popularity and profitability of movies and TV shows with mob themes have led to an endless stream of imitators, to the great detriment of the Italian-American image in this country.
In my lifetime I have lived through an era that has spanned "Little Ceasar", the TV series "The Untouchables", "The Godfather", "Goodfellows", and the cable series "The Sopranos". During this time I have seen how the image of the Italian American in this country has gradually been tarnished. It is easy to understand why, as the following observations illustrate:
1. Almost every night on network or cable TV, one or more portrayals of Italian Americans in criminal roles are shown (including endless replays of The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellows, etc.). This adds up to a cumulative total of perhaps 500 or more prime-time portrayals each year and, sadly, growing in number it would appear. The vast majority of these portrayals are strictly fictional, and have nothing whatsoever to do with anyone who ever lived, or ever perpetrated such a crime.
2. Italian Americans are portrayed in TV ads which incorporate the premise that being Italian American is synonymous with being prone to violent or criminal behavior. I am sure we will see such an ad during the telecast of the upcoming Super Bowl game. (P.S., The Staples ad clearly fall into this category).
3. Italian Americans are portrayed in various TV programs without being allowed to be just regular people who, coincidentally, happen to be Italian American. Frequently there is some inferred (or even explicit) inference that they are "connected".
4. In the movie theaters, refreshment-counter advertisements with mob themes are shown (with the inevitable "capisce" gratuitously sprinkled throughout, and the names "Gino" etc. being applied to the characters, so that no one will miss the point). I have seen two different refreshment-counter advertisements of this type in the past few years.
These are just a few illustrations of what Italian Americans must endure daily. I am sure most other Americans have also experienced these and many other examples of negative stereotyping of Italian Americans. I believe this stereotyping has inevitably resulted in an increased insensitivity and disregard for the dignity and accomplishments of our ethnic group.
Your Shark Tale movie, scheduled to be released later this year, is in my opinion one of the worst examples of negative stereotyping I have encountered in my lifetime. The movie is especially repugnant to me because this time children are the intended audience. It is especially shocking to me because this time it is you, Mr. Spielberg, a man with the respect of the world, who is responsible for the negative stereotyping of Italian Americans. Shark Tale in its present form is, I believe, totally inconsistent with the American ideal of justice and fair treatment for all. I hope and pray you will release this movie with a revised format in which the villains are generic in nature rather than clearly Italian American. In the end, all Americans will be hurt when one group is unjustly vilified. I might remind you also that the immensely popular "Finding Nemo" did not need a "mob crutch", but succeeded on artistic merit alone.
St Paul, Minnesota
Cc: Hon. James Oberstar, U.S. House of Representatives
Hon. Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House of Representatives