Prejudice 'Em While They're Young

Friday July 2, 2004 Chicago Reader

Dear Sir or Madam:

Interesting article about the Tony Kushner/Hedy Weiss battle [Hot Type, June 4]. We're going through the same exact thing with our own "brethren" - that is, the Italian-American actors involved with the upcoming children's cartoon, Shark Tale, scheduled for an October 1 release.

As your readers may or may not know, Shark Tale is about an innocent little fish named Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) who finds himself pursued by evil, vicious "killer gangster sharks," all of them with blatantly Italian names, mannerisms, etc. In other words, it's "The Sopranos Under the Sea" - quite a fun-filled concept for kids, no?

We saw a sneak preview of the film at the May 2 Tribeca film festival, so the film's producers can no longer say (as they have, repeatedly, since last fall) that Shark Tale is merely a "generic spoof" of gangster movies, meant to appeal to the sense of irony of its target audiences. Which begs the question: since when do eight-year-olds appreciate satiric nuance?

No, Shark Tale is simply a blatant attempt to exploit the Sopranos craze for kids. Why else would the killer sharks have names like Don Lino, Lenny, and Luca? Why do they use dumbed down expressions such as "Capeesh" and "Fuggedaboudit" and "Ya gotta take care of a ting"?

The saddest part is that these crude caricatures are voiced by allegedly "proud" Italian actors such as Robert De Niro, Michael Imperioli, and Vincent Pastore. Their very willingness to participate in such a project does indeed smack of self-loathing - or, to use a more charitable phrase, a lack of pride in their heritage. Hedy Weiss is correct in stating that things like tone, words, and body language can give the show away via an author's portrayal of his/her own people. The evidence may not be as obvious as in Shark Tale, but Weiss certainly has a right to her opinion on the subject.

A question to Mr. Miner: If Shark Tale had been titled "Gefilte Fish, Inc.," and had killer shark characters named Meyer Sharksky, Scallops Shapiro, Bugsy Seagull, and Sidney Squidstein, would it not behoove Jewish-American film critics to decry such a wrongheaded attempt at parody - especially when aimed at a market of impressionable kids? We would think - indeed, hope - so.

Bill Dal Cerro
Italic Institute of America

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