As with any film or television show that includes a mafia theme, DreamWorks’ latest computer-animated feature, Shark Tale, has come under attack for its depiction of certain Italian-Americans, albeit fish. The Columbus Citizens Foundation, a non-profit organization that celebrates Italian-American culture, issued a statement today admonishing DreamWorks and principal Steven Spielberg for producing a film that it believes is "unprecedented in recent children’s movies in its use of ethnic stereotypes to characterize villains."
Lawrence Auriana, president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, says he attended a screening of Shark Tale at the Toronto Int’l Film Festival and was dismayed to see the villains identified by ethnicity. "The movie introduces young minds to the idea that people with Italian names–like millions of Americans across the country–are gangsters," Auriana states. "Shark Tale creates in its audiences an association between gangsters and Italian-Americans that will become imprinted in the developing minds of children."
Auriana goes on to say, "It is startling that this film comes from Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks SKG. Mr. Spielberg has been a passionately outspoken opponent of stereotyping and discrimination."
The organization is asking that Spielberg and DreamWorks make changes to Shark Tale prior to its Oct. 1 U.S. release. The proposed changes include removing Italian names from characters, eliminating Italian and Italian-American phrases and slang and removing physical gestures and customs found in Italian and Italian-American culture. The group is also demanding that Shark Tale titles already released in bookstores be taken off shelves.
The above alterations would entail a complete re-working of the film, and with the release date just two weeks away, it is unlikely that any changes will be made to appease The Columbus Citizens Foundation or any civic organization representing Italian-Americans.
The Columbus Citizens Foundation is a member of the National Coalition Against Racial, Religious and Ethnic Stereotyping (CARRES), which since January 2004 has asked DreamWorks SKG to remove Italian-American names, mannerisms and speech from the film. DreamWorks has not yet responded to the allegations.