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Ethnic Coalition Challenges Dreamworks On Stereotyping & Gangster Elements In "Shark Tale"

Press Contact: Dona De Sanctis, (202) 547-2900 ddesanctis@osia.org

WASHINGTON, February 6, 2004 ­ A national coalition of ethnic organizations has written to Steven Spielberg, expressing serious concerns about reported stereotyping and gangster elements in DreamWorks' forthcoming children's movie Shark Tale, scheduled for release in October.

The National Coalition Against Racial, Religious and Ethnic Stereotyping (CARRES) was founded in January 2004 by four of the nation's leading Italian American organizations: the Columbus Citizens Foundation, the National Italian American Foundation, the Order Sons of Italy in America® and UNICO National.

To date more than 20 Italian American organizations as well as the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs and the Polish American Congress have joined CARRES.

Shark Tale is being produced by Spielberg's company, DreamWorks SKG under the direction of one of his partners, Jeffrey Katzenberg. According to the DreamWorks Web site, Shark Tale is "a gangster comedy" that features sharks as mafia characters, who belong to the Five Families, a large syndicate, which includes killer whales, hammerheads and Frankie, a white shark, who is "a natural born killer." Nearly all have Italian last names. (See www.sharktale.com.)

In its Jan. 21 letter to Spielberg, the CARRES coalition asked DreamWorks to change the gangsters' last names in Shark Tale to ones that do not call to mind a specific ethnic group and to remove all script elements that identify them as Italian, including dialogue using such terms as "fuhgettaboutit," "capeesh" and the like.

With its letter, CARRES sent the results of two recent studies. The first revealed that from 1928 to 2000, Hollywood produced nearly 1,100 films featuring Italian or Italian American characters. Of these 73% portrayed them as criminals or buffoons.

The other was a Zogby International poll of 1,300 teens aged 13 to 18 of different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds. It revealed that 78% of the teenagers thought the most appropriate roles for Italian American characters on TV or in the movies was as gang bosses or waiters.

Clearly movie and TV stereotypes shape perceptions," said CARRES spokesperson Dona De Sanctis. "Shark Tale's plot sounds like 'Nemo meets Don Corleone.' That kind of movie would cause a tidal wave of unwholesome stereotypes to hit yet another generation of impressionable children. Once on DVD and video, these stereotypes will have a multi-generational shelf life." Variety reports that a sequel to Shark Tale is already being planned, according to De Sanctis.

"Italian Americans are tired of seeing themselves relentlessly portrayed as violent people who live outside the law," De Sanctis said. "We plan to use every tool available to us to make sure that the American public knows our concerns about movies like Shark Tale that perpetuate this unfair and untrue stereotype," she said.

Coalition members include:

the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the American Italian Defense Association, Arba Sicula, the Columbian Lawyers Association of Long Island, the Columbus Citizens Foundation, the Commission for Social Justice®, the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, the Federation of Italian American Organizations of Queens, Inc., the Federation of Italian American Societies in New Jersey, the Italian American Human Relations Foundation, the Italian American One Voice Coalition, the Italian American Task Force on Defamation, the Italian American Women's Center, Inc., the Italic Institute of America, the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs, the National Italian American Foundation, the Nation Organization of Italian American Women, the Order Sons of Italy in America®, the Polish American Congress, the Society for Italian Culture of Long Island and UNICO National.

For more information on the work and mission of CARRES, contact CARRES spokesperson Dona De Sanctis in Washington, D.C. at 202/547-2900 or ddesanctis@osia.org.