Actor Robert De Niro hit out today at claims he should not be granted Italian citizenship because his Mafia roles have harmed the country’s reputation.
The actor, who is part Italian, was due to be granted honorary citizenship this week.
But a US-based group, the Order of Sons of Italy in America, have held up the ceremony with their protests.
They claim the 61-year-old star has done more harm than good to the reputations of Italians and Italian-Americans with roles such as Mafia boss Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II.
Speaking at the Venice Film Festival, De Niro insisted: “The characters I play are real. They are real. So they have as much right to be portrayed as any other characters.”
The protesters have ignored the scores of other roles he has played throughout his career, he said.
“There are other characters I’ve portrayed other than those ones which have been called stereotypes.”
De Niro said: “I’m part Italian, part Dutch, part French, part German and part Irish, but I probably identify more with my Italian side than the other parts.
“Italy is such a great and wonderful country, I’m very proud and honoured to be asked to be a citizen.”
Besides The Godfather, De Niro has played Italian-Americans in films such as Goodfellas, Once Upon A Time In America and Mean Streets.
The Washington-based Sons of Italy group have written to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to air their grievances.
“He has done nothing to promote the image of Italians. He has damaged their image by constantly playing criminal roles that tarnish their reputation,” wrote group president Joseph Sciame.
Despite their protests, the citizenship ceremony is set to go ahead next month in Rome.
De Niro is at the Venice Film Festival for the world premiere of Shark Tale.
Co-stars Angelina Jolie and Will Smith are also attending.
In the animated underwater movie, De Niro sends up his gangster roles by playing shark mafia boss Don Lino.
The premiere will be held in St Mark’s Square, the first time an event of this kind has been staged in the historic venue.