"Shark Tale," the gangster-fish movie with Italian character, mannerism and songs, premiered Oct. 1, the first day of Italian-American heritage month. The movie is sponsored by some of the nation's largest corporations. A coalition of more than 25 Italian-American organizations opposed the release of this movie and the plan to use it as a "teaching project" in elementary schools.
In a promotional interview with Matt Lauer, Will Smith, one of the voices in the animated movie, tried to defend "Shark Tale" by saying: "At its premiere in Rome, Italians showed up in droves and they all liked it." Unfortunately, Lauer and Smith fail to realize that Italians regard Mafia movies as an American thing. In Italy, organized crime, present in every country and in every ethnic group, is not associated with "being Italian" as is often the case in America.
A case in point was the recent Gala Banquet by the National Italian-American Foundation in Washington, D.C., in honor of Christopher Columbus. While President Bush and Sen. John Kerry snubbed the event, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell was there. During his address, Powell spoke of his Italian connection by saying, "It was Sam who taught me how to play poker with a few cops from the nearby police station next to him." The audience responded to the jab with a muffled laugh.
A few days later, during his TV show, Tony Danza summarized the otherwise successful event by replaying Powell's remarks. More laughs at the expense of Italian-Americans throughout the country. Stereotypes against Italians may be subtle, but they are still real and common.
Rev. Secondo Casarotto
Pastor, St. Anthony's Church