Saturday, August 11, 2012


August 9, 12

Dear National Geographic,

So you think you know Gypsies? Or rather, you think Ralph Macchio does?

What I see when I watch "American Gypsies" is another scripted reality show that focuses on fights and conflicts to raise ratings. Sure, you put brief articles about Romani history and culture on your web page for the hardiest explorers to find. You even quoted Dr. Ian Hancock, one of our own scholars. But then you overshadowed that more factual—but by no means complete—information with a big brazen exhortation to "Solve your dispute in Gypsy Court" by taking "your case to your Facebook peers." Now, there are some wise elders for you.

This is exploitation! All the more so because you bypassed scores of accomplished, serious Roma filmmakers for the likes of the "Karate Kid." And perhaps the most hateful thing about all this is how, although you mention that the Johns are one American Gypsy family, your articles and much of your advertising implies that viewers will know the Gypsy people once they have seen Ralph's outsider vision of them. And what does Ralph do? Well, in interview after interview last week, he compared us to the Mafia!

So, let's add this up: You know, because you consulted experts like Dr. Hancock, that most Gypsies are not fortunetellers or any other one profession, or criminals, or any of the stereotypes that have dogged our people and led to our persecution over centuries; still, when push comes to shove, you represent us with a commercialized fortune-telling family and compare us to the criminal Mafia. Furthermore, if you and Ralph used the word "secretive" to refer to us once, you used it a thousand times. Is that secretive, like "Orientals" are "inscrutable" ? Or perhaps you’d like to bring back Birth of a Nation so we can see the Ku Klux Klan as heroes?

Do you really not see the racism in all this? Well, I'd like to open your eyes. I challenge you, National Geographic, to air films by Romani filmmakers who show the diversity of our culture. Enclosed is a list of filmmakers who have a much greater clue than Mr. Macchio to who we are.

National Geographic, I challenge you. If you really want to know Gypsies, redeem your reputation as worthy explorers and scholars by airing work made within our community. Let our people truly speak for ourselves.

Glenda Bailey-Mershon
Board Member, Romani Zor


Films by Romani filmmakers:

Latcho Drom (Tony Gatlif, Director) is a hymn to the music of Sinti and Roma from Rajasthan to Andalusia, via Egypt, Romania, Hungary, and France. Gatlif's films are numerous and many have won awards: Corre Gitano, on the Sinti and Roma from Grenada and Seville; Les Princes, on the Sinti and Roma who live in Paris suburbs;

Gadjo Dilo recounts the story of the arrival of a young Gadjo (non-Rom) in a Roma village in Romania; and Vengo (2000) describes the rivalry between two Andalucian families involved in flamenco dance.

Swing (2002) was filmed in eastern France, and describes the journey of Max, a young boy who wants to learn Django Reinhardt's guitar playing.

Migration (Milutin Jovanovic, Director) recounts the efforts of a young Roma boy to document his home in a Romani settlement that was moved by the Belgrade City Assembly; a rough story about Gagi, his ambitions, the Roma and their problems, intertwined with several comic situations.

Mundi Romani“the World through Roma Eyes (Katalin Barsony, Director, the UNESCO award winner series; more than 40 episodes), has won many awards for telling the stories of various Romani groups around the world.

Roma Memento. Zukunft Ungewiss? / Roma Memento. Uncertain Future? (Marieka Schmiedt, Writer, Director) Beginning with pictures of the current living conditions of Roma in Belgrade, the film takes us from the grim contemporary situation to a forewarning past. In a conversation between the filmmaker and her mother, she speaks about her experiences of exclusion and her parentless childhood. Her mother was murdered in a concentration camp and she knew nothing about her own origin; neither did she know or understand the reasons behind the prejudices and continuous experiences of exclusion she encountered. The mother confides to her daughter how she has been haunted by these long-term experiences of discrimination, along with the current political situation for Roma in Europe, throughout her whole life.

Also from Schmeidt: Vermachtnis (Legacy), 2010-2011(Vienna) , a portrait of Roma Holocaust survivor and artist Ceija Stojka and her offspring.

Searching for the 4th Nail (George Eli, Writer and Director) turns a camera on the secret life of Romani culture when the writer's two sons ask, What does it mean to be a Gypsy? From the Holocaust Museum to Hollywood, from ancient India to Ellis Island, they search for an answer.

Romani Kris: Court of Common Consent (Cristinela Ionescu, Writer, Director, and Producer) describes the results of Romanian authorities turning to Romani judges as mediators in conflicts and as aides in law enforcement, following the Roma homegrown justice system, led by elected Romani judges, typically educated elders who are respected in their community and have good relations with the non-Roma. These unique Roma courts represent a symbol of peace and stability in the family and community for Romani people all over world, and may function as a model of a just and egalitarian way of resolving differences and contributing to the creation of a truly functioning multicultural coexistence.

Films by Non-Roma Filmmakers with good access to Romani communities:

A People Uncounted (Aaron Yaager, Director; Tom Rasky, Producer; music by Robi Botos, an Hungarian-born Roma pianist) was filmed in 11 countries and features dozens of Roma including Holocaust survivors, historians, activists and musicians bringing Romani history to life through the interplay of their poetry, music, and compelling first-hand accounts, placing the Romani story within the larger context of the world's legacy of racism and genocide.

Bold as Love: My Time with the Kalderash Gypsies of California. (Rana Halprin, Director; forthcoming) A record of the Kalderash community in California.

Carpati:50 Miles, 50 Years (Yale Strom, Director) Also, Man From Munkacs. Both films recount relationships between Jews and Roma.

Gypsy Caravan, (Jasmine Delal, Producer) A dazzling display of the musical world of the Roma, juxtaposed to the real world they live in. This feature documentary celebrates the luscious music of top international Gypsy performers and interweaves stirring real life tales of their home life and social background. Shot by documentary icon Albert Maysles. The film takes place on location in Spain, Macedonia, Romania and India, as well as in Europe and in the USA during the Gypsy Caravan concert tour created by World Music Institute. Also from Delal, American Gypsy, which follows a Romani leader and his family through a series of crises.

Just the Wind (Bence Fliegauf, Writer and Director) recounts one day in the life of a Roma family during the serial murders that took place during 2008 and 2009 in Hungary.

Opre Roma, (Tony Papa, Director; Gillian Darling Kovanic, Producer) celebrates the vibrant culture and tenacious struggle of the Canadian Gypsy and introduces a new generation of Roma who claim their Gypsy roots with pride, while fighting the myths that caused their parents to live in fear.

Our School (Mona Nicoara, and Miruna Coca-Cozma, Directors) tells the story of three Roma children segregated in Romanian schools who are part of a pioneer initiative to desegregate the local schools in a small Transylvanian town. The film asks the question, if you're not given a chance in first grade, what's the likelihood that, as an adult, you are going to access a better life than your parents?

Romano Drom¨(Kristyna Balaban, Director) takes us into the lives of four Roma youth living in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Suspino “A Cry For Roma (Gillian Darling Kovanic, Director) takes an unflinching look at the persecution that continues to plague Europe's largest and most vilified minority. The film focuses on Romania, where Europe's largest concentration of Roma are considered public enemies, and Italy, where the Roma are classified as nomads and relegated to living in camps, denied basic human rights available to refugees and foreign residents.

The Gypsies of Svinia, (Directed by John Paskievich; produced by Joe MacDonald, 1998) takes an unprecedented look into the everyday lives of Roma who have been relegated to the farthest, most grotesque margins of society during Eastern Europe's painful transition from communism to democracy.

“Compiled by Glenda Bailey-Mershon for Rromani Zor.

Glenda Bailey-Mershon


Jane's Stories Press Foundation
www.janesstories. org
Author of Sa-co-ni-ge/ Blue Smoke

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