UNICO National, “the largest Italian service organization in the USA”, voiced its disapproval of Take-Two Interactive’s upcoming video game Mafia II, which places players in the role of a Sicilian gangster as he rises through the ranks of an Italian crime syndicate in the 1940s and ’50s.
Andre’ DiMino, UNICO National president, said Mafia II perpetuates the stereotype of all Italians and Italian-Americans as being connected to organized crime, a stereotype he said is based on a small percentage of truth when compared to the prevalence of other ethnic groups involved in organized crime.“The promos and story lines go into great detail about the characters coming here from Sicily and joining with other Italians in bloody, murderous crimes and nefarious activities as their only pursuits,” DiMino said. “Although the negative stereotyping is being disclaimed by Take Two, and its misguided devotees, as a ‘period piece’ or somehow, laughably, an ‘historical account’, that belies the fact that in that period, and with historical reference, the infinitesimally small percentage of Italian Americans in organized crime were second to more powerful and murderous criminals from other ethnic groups.”
DiMino said the stereotype has been blown out of proportion by society despite the percentages.
“In all cases, it is the small percentage of Italians involved in crime during this period that are ubiquitous in the media and entertainment industry,” DiMino said. “This, as is evident, has welded that negative perception into the collective consciousness.”
To accurately portray the efforts of Italians and Italian-Americans, DiMino said the media and entertainment industry should focus on the areas in which larger percentages of the ethnic group participated.
“If there is truly to be historical perspective, where are the stories about the extremely high relative percentage of Italian Americans who fought for this country in World War II and those that have contributed so much to this world and this country?” DiMino asked. “You just don’t see or hear about that at all.”
DiMino wrote a letter to Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick expressing his disapproval of Mafia II‘s stereotypes and requested the game’s release be delayed so the offensive material could be removed. Zelnick responded publicly with a press release.
“Mafia II tells a compelling story about organized crime in America — a subject that for decades has been featured in movies, television shows and novels,” Zelnick said. “Neither UNICO nor any other organization purporting to represent Italian-Americans has seen or played Mafia II.”
DiMino said his organization’s knowledge of the game comes from “video promos, ‘walk-throughs’, gameplay accounts and reviews on You Tube and other available sources.” A demo of the game is also available on Xbox Live and Playstation Network.
“At Take-Two, we balance our right to free expression with what we believe is a thoughtful and responsible approach to creating and marketing our products,” Zelnick said. “Mafia II is M-rated in accordance with our industry’s strict standards. It is specifically not targeted toward young people.”
DiMino said a significant number of young people will still play the game despite the mature rating.
“Unfortunately, although Zelnick can hide behind the ‘M’ rating on this disgraceful game, we all know that millions of teens and pre-teens will be engrossed with playing Mafia II,” DiMino said. “Consequently, we abhor the potential of a new generation being catalyzed into automatically associating Italian Americans with the disgusting thugs and violent bums who inhabit Mafia II. It is just not fair or acceptable!”
Zelnick concluded his letter by saying his fully supports Take-Two’s teams and products.
“We will only release a title that meets our standards: as art, as entertainment and as a socially responsible product,” he said. “We aim to distinguish creative and compelling story telling that advances artistic expression from subject matter that gratuitously exploits or glorifies violence or stereotypes. I fully and completely stand behind our creative teams and products, including Mafia II.”
DiMino said Zelnick’s response is “ludicrous, self-serving pablum.”
“He ‘fully and completely’ stands behind his creative team and ‘socially responsible’ products?” DiMino asked. “Is he referring to Grand Theft Auto, Bully, Manhunt and now Mafia II? Perhaps he is the one living in a video game!”
Mafia II is only one source of media UNICO National has spoken out against for its portrayal of Italians.
“For many, many years, UNICO has consistently and repeatedly fought negative stereotyping and defamation,” DiMino said. “This has included protests against The Sopranos, Shark Tales, stereotypical advertisements, TV series, and many other media items.”
DiMino said he does not deny Italians and Italian-Americans have been involved in organized crime but believes the media should stop exaggerating the stereotype and start treating the ethnic group more fairly.
“To punctuate this point, can you name one show on TV that has ever portrayed Italian Americans in a positive light?” DiMino asked. “What we are seeking is fairness.”