Photograph courtesy TLC
This is a response to Torie Bosch's recent DoubleX article on the TLC show My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, which was very controversial within the Romani community.
Oksana Marafioti is the author of American Gypsy: A Memoir.
When I met the producer, I was pleased to hear he was still working on the show’s angle. But as we talked, he seemed to become increasingly disappointed with my profile. As a college graduate, a classically trained pianist, and member of the film industry, I did not fit the bill of the “real gypsies” he was interested in meeting; everyone he had been interviewing resembled me far more than the tambourine-jangling caricature he had in mind. At this, warning bells went off. I suggested staying away from stereotypes if possible, but when he asked if I planned on attending any “old-fashioned gypsy weddings or birthday parties” in the future, I felt so dismayed I wanted to cry.
Having worked in the industry, I know that producers are entertainers first and foremost. They’re in the business of making money, a business which employs many hard-working people and supports countless families. However, a show like this can harm a group of people already under scrutiny, people who also have families to watch over. Being a Romani isn’t a way of life or a cult. We aren’t Gypsy by choice or calling. No one can decide to become a Gypsy one day. We are a race of close to 10 million, with a culture that spans centuries and across continents. It is one thing to present a willing group of people in a negative light, but quite another to represent an entire race of people as a niche stereotype. This is particularly dangerous since people know so little about us and yet think they know so much.
Once home from the meeting, I wrote the producer this email: