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."