‘...I’ve often thought, what if Harry Potter was a Roma boy...the only way you’re gonna do that is if you have Roma heroes within stories...’George Eli, filmmaker
‘I wanted to use film as a narrative to understand and to give a perspective of my community’s voice.’Artur Conka, filmmaker
The ‘Roles’ subsection seeks to illustrate historical examples of Roma representation in film as well as Roma works of art that question and counter stereotypical representations. By re-evaluating and contrasting historic narratives and visual traditions, these emerging works offer Roma characters new and redefined roles within cinema. The films in this category are either forms of self-representation or films that portray Romani communities and lives with a certain closeness and depth.
Throughout the history of filmmaking, Roma have been represented in stereotypical ways. From negative Romani characters, often portrayed by white actors, in the silent film era and the exoticised depictions of Roma in cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, to clichés in Disney films such as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Roma representation has been seeped in prejudice.
In contrast, the pioneers of cinematic Roma self-representation have critically reflected on these historic depictions of Romani characters and proposed a new direction. Although this direction contains very different films, each following a different genre and format, it sticks to a basic philosophy of filmmaking: in order to create and mediate a self-image, there must be personal stories recounted by Romani communities in their own voices.
Film has the power to bring back oral traditions as well as the rhetorical styles that have defined and maintained Roma communities, their language and their history for centuries. Those creating Roma counter-images utilise new storytelling techniques and depict Roma in complex everyday roles, emphasising the diversity of the Romani identity. Characters are defined not only by their ethnicity, but also as activist women, children who want to study, men who create things and hard-working rural or urban residents.
While freedom and democracy have been denied to Romani citizens in many areas, film has remained a critical mode for expressing the inalienable rights to freedom embodied in social memory for many authors, including Romani authors. The diverse film roles that Roma have portrayed at the end of the twentieth century, often within their own films, demonstrate gradual improvement in Roma representation. Nevertheless, creators continue to face institutional challenges as their voices are still not heard by the mainstream.