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Italian-American Group UNICO Takes Issue With  Mafia II , Take-Two Responds
Italian-American Group UNICO Takes Issue With Mafia II, Take-Two Responds
August 18, 2010 | By Colette Bennett

August 18, 2010 | By Colette Bennett
More: Console/PC

UNICO National, which claims to be the largest Italian American service organization in the United States, has taken a stand against Take-Two Interactive in regards to the portrayal of Italians in Mafia II. Calling it "pile of racist nonsense", UNICO president Andre' DiMino is demanding that Take-Two hold back on releasing the title, which is due to hit retail on August 24th.

Mafia II tells the story of Vito Scaletta, a man from a Sicilian immigrant background who joins a crime family and participates in violent acts. The game features violence, murder, sex and other adult themes, as did the first installment in the Mafia series.

DiMino openly attacked Take-Two in his statement, saying, "Why would [Take Two] foist a game on their targeted audience of young people wherein they will indoctrinate a new generation into directly associating Italians and Italian-Americans with violent, murderous organized crime, to the exclusion of all of the other 'mafias' run by other ethnic and racial groups?" DiMino continued.

"Take Two is directly, blatantly and unfairly discriminating and demeaning one group to the exclusion of all others. We are demanding they halt release of the game and cleanse it of all references to Italians and Italian-Americans," wrote DiMino.

DiMino wrote a letter to Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick requesting a meeting and advising him that the portrayal of Italian Americans in Mafia is inappropriate and insulting and furthers the "denigrating stereotype of organized crime being the exclusive domain of Italians and Italian-Americans."

In fact, Take-Two's Grand Theft Auto franchise frequently deals with criminal characters in an atmosphere of gangland fiction; GTA IV featured Eastern European immigrant hitmen, for example, while GTA: San Andreas took its cues from Los Angeles' racially-charged gang rivalries in the early 1990s.

Take-Two are no strangers to controversy, having published many titles that have attracted criticism for their violence or subject matter, from classic firestarter GTA to Bully and Manhunt. Other ethnic groups, such as Haitians and Cubans, have also protested in the past against Take Two's stereotypes of them in their video games.

UNICO National, founded in 1922, claims to be the largest Italian American service organization in America. According to the organization, volunteer members support charitable, educational and community service projects while promoting Italian heritage.

UPDATE: In a statement, Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick responded to UNICO:

"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. Neither UNICO nor any other organization purporting to represent Italian-Americans has seen or played Mafia II," he wrote.

"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," he continued. "Mafia II is M-rated in accordance with our industry's strict standards. It is specifically not targeted toward young people."

"We will only release a title that meets our standards: as art, as entertainment and as a socially responsible product," Zelnick concluded. "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."

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Tore Slinning
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I thought people like UNICO only could be found in Sopranos.

Matjaz Puhar
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no, on jersey shore

Alex Franco
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On your bike UNICO

Lo Pan
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I get my gas at UNICO stations, they have slurpees.

David Rodriguez
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There is a wrong and right way to go about portraying a race in a violent game. Rockstar has constantly shown reasonable portrayals of ethnic groups without being completely Bias (as in everyone is equally a back stabbing dirt bag). Organizations like this should be targeting the games that REALLY go out of their way to be racist. Here's a great example by Liquid Generation

their whole business model IS to discriminate people.

Jason Schwenn
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I'm pretty sure one episode of Jersey Shore does more to "defame" Italian-Americans than Mafia II, III, IV and V combined would ever likely be able to do.

august clark
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As I read the quoted text from UNICO, I imagined it being delivered by Fat Tony from the Simpsons, which may very well confirm the groups fears. Denouncing such portrayals is exactly what they are supposed to do.

In any case, I don't think that anyone going into this game with a realistic view of Italians is going to come out of it with a shattered world view and a new conviction that all of them serve some shadowy God-father.

Eric Smith
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Just another organization running it's mouth about a game they've never even played. Move along.

Robert Green
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I love the part about the "targeted audience of young people". When you're complaining about false steroetypes, nothing sells your cause better than engaging in one yourself.

Seriously, if this wasn't targeted at people old enough to already recognise the other fictional properties it resembles, then what purpose would it serve making the game this way? Unless they're actually accusing the devs of thinking every criminal in that time and place was Italian....

Alan Rimkeit
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To be fair they should include some of the Irish and Russian Mafia's as well. :D

sean lindskog
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That was a well worded response from Zelnick. You haven't even seen the game, it's not for kids, and get off our backs about the mafia sh*t, everyone does it.

Andre Gagne
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your summary sounds like a defense for snorting cocaine...

In all seriousness, shouldn't we as an industry be having a solid, thoughtful conversation about appropriate portrayals of minorities in our medium? Or do we go the route of take 2 and stick to status quo. Yay for the degeneration of the human species!

Brett Williams
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In America you have the right to dislike their content and their message. You have the right to complain; the right to organize a protest of their message. However, the same thing that protects your right is the same that provides them the right to create this content.

Allowing you freedoms implies others enjoy the same freedoms, regardless of minority, majority, size, representation, gender, race, etc. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

You are not forced to like it, but you cannot suppress their freedom to create it.

Andre Gagne
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I've always wondered about that, the absolutist language of the constitution has certainly allowed culture creating media to enforce status quo. As much as we like to hide behind the constitution we have to acknowledge that this does have real effects on the youth of the world (for more info read up on the effects of institutional racism).

Justin Jackson
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Well i think everyone should just play it safe and use lego model's for every game. Or would that be discriminating against lego.. people...

Jane Castle
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Take Two sleeps with the fishes while wearing cement slippers.....

Mark Morrison
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couldn't agree with you more jason. maybe snooky could be the godmother.

Eric Geer
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Why doesn't Take-Two just announce a game where the main character is a stereotypical white/caucasian American...with no heritage background(because most of us either don't know or don't care) and have them included in a game where they are a backstabbing dirtbag...if they create a game for all races depicted as dirbags...then no one complain---see comedy from Chris Rock or David Chappelle....its bad if you target one or two..but if you target everyone then everyone laughs...

Mark Venturelli
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You are right when you say that no one would complain about a "white male with no heritage background" (and here I would add "not fat" and without any kind of negative social characteristics) being a "dirtbag", but that's just because, like YOU, they consider this guy being "everyone", and not representative of anything.

It's racism, just rotated 180 degrees.

Sylvester O'Connor
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I just have to throw some serious thought here. I'm also going to get historic which UNICO must forget. The mafia actually emerged in the 19th century in Sicily. Other groups formed their own mafia's here in the states towards the end of the 19th Century when there were plenty of Italian emigrants that were coming from overseas. So please tell me what is wrong with throwing some liberties on a past that is factual. Did any Greek orginazations say anything about Sony taking liberties on their mythology with God of War? Did the NAACP throw up their arms when GTA San Andreas came out? Did you hear any Russian/Ukranian groups get angry with GTA4 or Mercenaries in which they were doing nothing more in the game but profiting off of the war in South Korea?

It is so troubling to see that movies like Departed, which was No. 1 in the box office for weeks, didn't offend anyone. Or that any of the Godfather movies, or Goodfellas, or Casino didn't bother anyone. I know that they tried to shut down Soprano's but seriously, that is what is wrong today with people's perceptions of games.

And if everyone took note of the way that he made gaming seem so negative. As if the point of the game is to just go around killing people. Get a grip.

Bill White
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'The Most Dangerous Mobster in the World.

Village Voice (NY), May 20-26, 1998

"The enigmatic leader of the Russian Red Mafia is a 52-year-old Ukrainian-born Jew named Semion Mogilevich.

The FBI and Israeli intelligence assert that he traffics in nuclear materials, drugs, prostitutes, precious gems, and stolen art. His contract hit squads operate in the U.S. and Europe'.

Lo Pan
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For these types of protest, in this day and age, I wonder if the only groups that have any leverage for change are Muslim, Hispanic and African-American.

Fiore Iantosca
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Only 2 types of people in this world

1. Italians

2. Those who wish they were Italains


Mark Harris
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That should have been UNICO's statement about the Mafia game.

Kevin Milner
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As a Zombie American, I find the portrayal of my people in games like Left 4 Dead and Plants versus Zombies just reinforces the stereotypes that all shambling undead are only interested in brains. Many of us, myself included, actually prefer other organs such as the liver and spleen.

Also, I personally have NEVER worn a bucket on my head as a helmet. I don't care what Popcap says.

Gregory Kinneman
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@Bill: Clearly the most dangerous mafia man is Keyser Soze.

I honestly must say, if we're talking about racially tied crime families, then having a game about them is fine, but it wouldn't hurt the story/setting/theme to show several sides to the issues/races/characters. I haven't played it but if Mafia 2 is anything like the first one, then the allies of the protagonist are cold-blooded killers, and there are no 'good-guys' shown at all except as enemies. It's hollywood-esqe and that makes the story feel less deep and interesting. Showing that other racial groups can be just as corrupt, or just as innocent, could be delivered through an article one character reads in the paper. Something like a racist opinion piece, or use of racial slurs towards the protagonist.

If the goal is to portray what it really was like, this is very appropriate. If the goal is to show how the world should be, then all stereotypes should be taken out. Focusing only one on stereotype without context though is inappropriate.