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'Shark Tale' controversy

Jack Aubrey

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From CNN:


Slurs in 'Shark Tale'? Studio says no


Wednesday, September 15, 2004 Posted: 1:47 PM EDT (1747 GMT)


LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- DreamWorks SKG Tuesday defended its upcoming animated film "Shark Tale" against mounting criticism from Italian-American groups who say the movie's gangster-like Shark characters foster ethnic stereotypes.


Studio spokesman Andy Spahn said the emphasis of the film's humor was on pop culture and Hollywood parodies, similar to DreamWorks' hit storybook satires "Shrek" and "Shrek 2."


"It's a family comedy that pokes fun at a number of film genres," Spahn told Reuters. "It doesn't demean anyone, there are no negative stereotypes. There is nothing mean-spirited in the film."


He even suggested that the shark characters were not depicted in an altogether negative light. "Villains become heroes over the course of this film," he said.


DreamWorks' defense of the computer-animated movie, which premiered last week at the Venice International Film Festival, came as the New York-based Columbus Citizens Foundation joined an outcry from Italian-American groups condemning the film.


"Shark Tale" opens October 1 in the United States.


The movie centers on a boastful tropical fish named Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) who is hailed as a hero of the reef but finds himself in hot water after he pretends to have slain the son of the godfather of great white sharks, Don Lino, voiced by Robert De Niro.


"The movie introduces young minds to the idea that people with Italian names -- like millions of Americans across the country -- are gangsters," Columbus Citizens president Lawrence Auriana said in a statement.


He also accused DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg of "being hypocritical" for supporting the film's creation despite his high-profile association with causes dedicated to fighting racial and ethnic prejudice.


But Spahn said Spielberg had "nothing to do with the movie. ... Steven runs our live-action business."


In Venice last week, De Niro dismissed criticism leveled by a group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America, which wrote to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi urging him to cancel plans to bestow honorary Italian citizenship on the actor.


The group said De Niro did not deserve the honor because he had "made a career of playing gangsters of Italian descent."


"The characters I played are real. They have as much right to be portrayed as any others," said De Niro, who won an Oscar for his 1974 role in "Godfather: Part II" and also played gangsters in "Goodfellas," "Casino" and "Analyze This."

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