Mel Gibson's new film The Passion of the Christ may be banned in Italy, amid protests that it is anti-Italian.
Angry mobs stormed local piazzas in the capital Rome after advance reviews of the film claimed it portrayed Romans as "evil, barbaric murderers responsible for the murder of Jesus Christ".
According to local reports, crowds are threatening to burn down cinemas showing the film, describing it as yet another piece of anti-Italian propaganda.
Italian home secretary Antonio Donatoni has appealed for calm. He described the reaction as "hysterical" and urged Italians to follow the example of Jewish rabbis and politicians, who he said were never over-hasty to throw allegations of racism at pieces of art.
"When was the last time you ever heard of an Israeli politician, diplomat or religious leader saying that a film or art exhibit was anti-Semitic?" he said.
One British tourist Janet Sparks, currently on holiday in Rome, said she thought the local demonstrators had a point.
"Romans are lovely people and they've made me and my husband very welcome," she said. "It's wrong for any film to make them out to be cruel and malicious. They're always smiling and immaculately turned out. And what's more, they make great ice cream and pizzas."
Gibson's film is not his first to spark protests of racism. Nine years ago, thousands of Anglican vicars demonstrated outside cinemas showing Braveheart, claiming that it depicted the English as a cruel, unscrupulous and godless race.