SONS OF ITALY CONDEMNS INTERACTIVE DINNER THEATER STEREOTYPING

Press Contact: Kylie Cafiero, (202) 547-2900 kcafiero@osia.org

WASHINGTON, 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 and crime.

"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 nation’s 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 nation’s fifth largest ethnic group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To learn more, visit OSIA on the Web at www.osia.org.