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Sons of Italy® Contacts Berlusconi Re: DeNiro's Proposed Honorary Italian Citizenship

Press Contact: Kylie Cafiero, (202) 547-2900

WASHINGTON, August 11, 2004 ­ The Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA), the largest and oldest national organization for Italian Americans, has written to Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, urging him to cancel his government's plans to confer honorary Italian citizenship on the American actor Robert DeNiro, whose paternal grandfather was born in Italy.

The OSIA letter was prompted by newspaper reports that DeNiro would be so honored during his visit to Italy next month for the Venice Film Festival.

The letter was faxed to Mr. Berlusconi's offices in Rome yesterday, Aug. 10. It was signed by OSIA National President Joseph Sciame and the OSIA Commission for Social Justice® President Albert DeNapoli, Esq.

In their letter, the two OSIA leaders pointed out that since his starring role in The Godfather II in 1974, DeNiro has made a career of playing gangsters of Italian descent. Ironically, he will be in Italy to promote his latest film, Shark Tale, a children's gangster movie produced by Steven Spielberg's company, DreamWorks, SKG.

"From our conversations with DreamWorks and from what we have seen to date from the studio's own Web site, promotional material and trailer, this movie will perpetuate the image of Italian Americans as Mafia gangsters," Sciame and DeNapoli wrote. "We are especially concerned since this movie is directed at children who are particularly susceptible to absorbing negative stereotyping as studies from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and others have proven.

"We therefore respectfully request that the Republic of Italy cancel its plans to make Mr. De Niro an honorary citizen. He has done nothing to promote Italian culture in the United States. Instead, OSIA and its members hold him and his movies responsible for considerably damaging the collective reputations of both Italians and Italian Americans."

The letter also pointed out that Italy's conferring such an honor on DeNiro would be perceived as an insult by millions of Italian Americans who have long objected to the actor's "distorted and unbalanced portrayal of people of Italian heritage."

Copied on the letter were Italy's Ambassador to the U.S., Sergio Vento and to Italy's Minister for Italians Abroad Mirko Tremaglia.

Established in 1905, OSIA has a network of more than 700 chapters coast to coast. The CSJ is OSIA's anti-defamation arm. It fights the stereotyping of Italian Americans by the U.S. entertainment, advertising, and media industries and promotes the achievements and contributions of Italian Americans to the U.S. through research and public education programs.