SONS OF ITALY CONDEMNS INTERACTIVE DINNER THEATER STEREOTYPING
Press Contact: Kylie Cafiero, (202) 547-2900 firstname.lastname@example.org
January 6, 2004 The Order Sons of Italy in America
(OSIA), the nation's oldest and largest organization for
men and women of Italian heritage, today issued a strong
resolution condemning interactive dinner theater productions
that stereotype Italian Americans.
The resolution was drafted by the Commission for Social
Justice (CSJ), the organization's anti-defamation arm,
and approved by delegates attending OSIA's 2004 national
convention in St. Louis last summer.
In its resolution OSIA states it will take "strong
and decisive action to condemn any organization, group
and/or individual who for any reason contracts with interactive
dinner theater companies
which present Italian American
characters, customs, traditions and religious practices
in a context marked by profanity, vulgarity or immorality."
Interactive dinner theater productions that focus on Italian
Americans have been proliferating since 1988 with the
premiere of "Tony & Tina's Wedding." The
members of the audience become the wedding guests and
mix with the actors in the wedding party. After the "marriage
ceremony" the audience goes to "the reception"
where the audience and the actors engage in improvised
conversation. The groom gets drunk; the bride goes to
the Ladies' Room to sniff coke; the in-laws have a food
fight while a nun does splits; and the groom's father
arrives with his girl friend, a stripper, who performs.
"Tony & Tina's Wedding" has played in more
than 100 cities in the U.S. as well as in Europe, Japan
and Australia. It also has spawned such imitations as
"Joey and Maria's Comic Italian Wedding," "Joey
and Maria's 25th Anniversary," "The Sopranos'
Last Supper" and "Tony Soaprano's Retirement
Dinner." Most present Italian American characters
as boorish, uneducated people prone to profanity, violence
"Such depictions serve only to further entrench the
negative stereotyping of Italians and Italian Americans
and bear no resemblance to the vast majority of Italian
Americans," said CSJ National President Albert DeNapoli.
DeNapoli cited U.S. Justice Department statistics indicating
that only about 5,000 people in the United States are
currently involved in organized crime. The ethnic breakdown
includes people of Hispanic, Asian, Russian, Jewish and
Chinese ancestry as well as Italian.
"Even if all 5,000 criminals in organized crime were
Italian American," DeNapoli said, "that would
constitute merely .0025 percent of the nations estimated
26 million Americans of Italian descent."
He also cited the recent OSIA study, "A Profile of
Today's Italian Americans," based on Census Bureau
statistics, which reveals that Italian Americans, the
fourth largest European ethnic group in the U.S., are
above the national median in education and earning power.
Recently, these interactive dinner companies have been
used as fundraisers for non-profit organizations, including
the American Red Cross and the United Way. Earlier this
year, OSIA formally protested the Red Cross's use of such
productions. In response, the Red Cross in August sent
a notice to all its 940 chapters, urging them to be "extra
vigilant" about stereotyping.
"It is not appropriate for Red Cross units to host
events with themes or references that could offend or
alienate ethnic groups," the notice read in part.
In subsequent telephone conversations with the Red Cross,
OSIA was assured that offending chapters had been told
that using such entertainment was "wrong and inappropriate."
The OSIA has a strong record of charitable giving: more
than $83 million to date. "We support many non-profit
organizations," said OSIA President Joseph Sciame,
"but it would be hard to explain to our members and
supporters any donation we made to an organization that
promotes the stereotyping of Italian Americans."
To view the CSJ resolution on the web go to: http://www.osia.org/public/pdf/CSJ_resolution.pdf.
Established in 1905, OSIA has more than 600,000 members
and supporters and a network of more than 700 chapters
coast to coast.
OSIA works at the community, national and international
levels to promote the heritage and culture of an estimated
26 million Italian Americans, the nations fifth
largest ethnic group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
To learn more, visit OSIA on the Web at www.osia.org.