The Romani do not enjoy the best rep in pop culture media - for centuries, we've been the boogeymen to scare children with, the roving bands of criminals that will rob you blind and betray you to Generic Monster of the Week, or monstrous cannibals hiding in the dark. Romani women in particular enjoy two very popular archetypes - seductive young woman who exists only to tempt white men and then die, or evil old witches who cast curses on anything that moves and then die. Rarely is nuance and complexity ever shown with Romani characters, and even then, when those characters do defy stereotypes, Romani actors are never cast to depict them in films or Romani culture is simply wiped away, treated more as a nuisance than an ethnicity that deserves positive representation. However, one of the many pros of the digital era is the easy access Roma actors now have to produce and distribute their own content. For once, Romani are given control over our image, one that is divorced from the villainy we are associated with. In part one of this series, I focus on seven Romani women in particular who have broken through the stereotypes associated with our culture, reclaiming female Romani identity from the white, gadjekano gaze. also, English isn't my first language so I apologize if something reads weirdly.
1. Elena Andújar
Born in Seville to a Spanish Gitana mother and African American father, Elena Andújar is a renown flamenco dancer and singer who has also experimented in other forms of dance and music such as jazz and blues. She began to study flamenco at the age of ten, and graduated at the school of Matilde Coral and Rafael el Negro, two of the most renown artists in flamenco. While dancing was her passion, she would also delve into singing, touring throughout the world in the early 2000's. She would eventually open up her own school in 2004. At the latest, she is currently recording her latest album. Fun fact - she briefly appeared in The Devil's Advocate and danced alongside Al Pacino, but there's no clip of the scene online. Here's another clip of her performing instead!
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2. Katalin Bársony
Katalin Barsony is Hungarian Romani filmaker. Born to a traditional Romani mother and Jewish father, Bársony lived between both the traditional world and the modern. At the age of 17, she was picked to a TV presenter, and worked her way up the industry from there. Now, she is the executive director of the Romedia Foundation and CEO of BAXT Films. From 2007 to 2011, Bársony created and directed the documentary series Mundi Romani - The World Through Roma Eyes, which tells the stories of numerous Romani communities throughout the world. Since then, she's directed two feature films, How Far the Stars and 3 Brothers.
Currently, she is writing her first fictional movie.
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3. María José Llergo
Are you a fan of Rosalia?
4+5. Sandra and Simonida Selimović
Sisters Sandra and Simonida Selimović are Serbian Roma actresses who began acting at relatively young ages - in the first TV roles they ever had, they played stereotypical Roma girls, and in fact they speak about how, in their teenage years, they had difficulty dealing with their Roma heritage due to the racism they'd face. Over the years, they continued to work, but as Sandra states, they were always given problematic roles, "they were never powerful, the heroes, or the main characters. So we decided: we want to choose how our identity is represented here." So in 2010, the sisters founded Romano Svato, or the Romani Word, a feminist theater company, as well as Mindj Panther, a hip-hop group. Through their performances, they touch upon subjects such as LGBT issues (Sandra is a lesbian), feminism and Romani pride.
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6. Alina Serban
If you ever see fancast lists on who should have played Wanda Maximoff in the MCU, you'll definitely have seen Alina Serban on those lists! Serban is a Romanian Roma actress turned director. Growing up in poverty and even living in foster care for a time, Serban would eventually become the first member of her family to graduate from high school and university, and eventually obtaining a masters from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Since then, Serban has worked in numerous productions, while also working on her own plays such as I Declare at My Own Risk and The Great Shame which focuses on the 500 years of Roma enslavement in Romania. Her first leading role in Marta Bergmann's Alone At My Wedding and Huseyin Tabak's Gipsy Queen won her numerous accolades and awards. More recently, Serban has debut as a director with her short film Letter of Forgiveness about the enslavement of Roma.
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Nótár Mary is a singer from Hungary who began to perform with her family at age 12, and released her first album at 16. Over the years, her music has evolved from traditional Hungarian Roma sounding to more pop, combining elements of the two into her music. Since then, Mary has had a successful career as a Roma pop singer. Check out her latest album Zenebomba!
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8. Jessica Reidy
BONUS - The Gypsy Woman and the Devil
Ending this post with a short film based on a Hungarian Roma legend, check it out!
Stick around for part two, which will focus on LGBT Roma artists! And if you've got any more suggestions, I'm all ears!