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De Niro at centre of Italian citizenship row



Story by: Jack Foley

IT SEEMS that actor, Robert De Niro, has been made an offer that Italian Americans can refuse...

According to various reports, Italian Americans are objecting to plans to give the actor honorary Italian citizenship, complaining that his Mafia roles, in films such as The Godfather, Goodfellas and upcoming cartoon, SharkTale, have given them a bad name.

The Order Sons of Italy issued a statement, saying that its members hold the actor and his movies responsible for 'considerably damaging the collective reputations of both Italians and Italian Americans'.

Their comments come in response to the Italian culture ministry's plan to make De Niro an Italian citizen during the Venice Film Festival, this September.

The group, based in Washington, insist that since starring in The Godfather II, in 1974, De Niro has 'made a career of playing gangsters of Italian descent', which has given a 'distorted and unbalanced portrayal of people of Italian heritage'.

They believe the star has done nothing to promote Italian culture in the US and have urged the culture ministry to reconsider their proposal.

De Niro was born in New York after his great-grandparents emigrated to the US from Ferrazzano, in Italy's central Molise region, at the end of the 19th Century.

He is scheduled to be at the Venice Film Festival to promote SharkTale, DreamWorks latest animated adventure, about a shark mob boss and featuring characters with Italian names.

Yet, the film, which co-stars the vocal talents of Will Smith, Jack Black and Angelina Jolie, as well as director, Martin Scorsese, has further fuelled the debate.

The Order states: "From our conversations with DreamWorks and from what we have seen to date from the studio's own website, promotional material and trailer, this movie will perpetuate the image of Italian Americans as Mafia gangsters.

"We are especially concerned since this movie is directed at children, who are particularly susceptible to absorbing negative stereotyping."

Italy's culture ministry and DreamWorks have yet to comment on the issue, although this is not the first time The Order has been vocal in its criticism of the portrayal of Italians on film and TV.

The Sopranos has already come under fire.

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