The Romani have been a popular subject in media due to the many colorful stereotypes associated with the culture. In many media portrayals, they are referred to by the more commonly known name of "Gypsies," but it is important to note that to many Romani, that word is a racist term sometimes considered analogous to the N-word.
In fiction, Romani are usually depicted as dishonest: thieves, pickpockets, con artists, trespassers, and tricksters who wouldn't think twice about taking everything you own that isn't nailed down, and a few things that are. The danger of children being kidnapped by Romani was a common old wives' tale. The stereotype for dishonesty may or may not be where the term "gypped" probably comes from.note In Europe, there are a number of Romani criminal organizations, both street gangs and mafias, but they are no more representative of all Romani than The Mafia is of all Italians. Not helping the perception is that Romani often hide their heritage to avoid discrimination, meaning that non-Romani (gadjo) often don't recognize the law-abiding Romani they encounter as Romani.
Romani are almost always shown as universally romantic nomads. They're mysterious and magical people, as the sheer number of Romani Fortune Tellers and Gypsy Curses demonstrates. They're also associated with Tarot cards, and sometimes credited with inventing them. Their women are fiery-tempered temptresses or wise old crones. They dance in flamenco outfits to Hungarian music. They wear brightly colored clothes and travel in brightly decorated caravans. They have dark skin and speak with an Überwald accent, regardless of where they are and where they're supposed to be from.
In reality, the Romani-diaspora is a collection of ethnic groups found throughout Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East. They originally emigrated from India but were mistaken for Egyptians by Medieval Europeans, which is how the term "Gypsy" originated (and why it should be capitalized, like Indian or Japanese). While they were originally moderately dark of skin, several hundred years of intermarrying with other ethnic groups have allowed many modern Romani to pass as White, Indian, or even African if they so choose. The bright outfits and wagons are Eastern European and used to be Truth in Television. Part of the reason they dressed that way was advertising. Nomadic Romani were certainly a historical fact, but the majority of modern Romani live in standard housing and are every bit as tech-savvy as their neighbors.
In addition to perpetuating stereotypes about the Romani, the media are largely blasé about slurs against them, using insulting terms like "gyppo" without much concern; and to many Romani today, the word "gypsy" itself is an offensive slur, though (see paragraph above) there is evidence that British Romani actually encouraged the term, as a supposed Egyptian origin gave their fortune-telling schtick more credibility — the same goes for the German word for Gypsy, "Zigeuner". It is considered to be unacceptable today and "Sinti und Roma" (technically, the Sinti are a subgroup of the Roma - which is just another word for Romani - but the Sinti do not use the term for themselves and speak a different dialect of the Romani language) is used instead. Apparently, the Romani are still Acceptable Ethnic Targets — another holdover from previous centuries, when the Romani were one of the Western world's Butt Monkeys. Between half a million and 1.5 million Romani were killed by SS Einsatzgruppen and in SS concentration, death-through-work, and extermination camps during World War II. note The Roma Holocaust is known by ethnic Romani as Porajmos ("the Devouring"). J. R. R. Tolkien noted that Nazi persecution of Romani was rather ironic considering they are direct descendants of the historical Aryans (i.e. the Indo-European settlers of ancient India).
Persecution of Romani is sometimes called antiziganism, though this term is controversial because it derives from the aforementioned term "Zigeuner," which—like "Gypsy"—is often considered derogatory. Historically, very widespread (one of the crimes punishable by death in the 18th-19th century "Bloody Code" in England was "spending more than one month in the company of Gypsies"note ), it still continues today. As recently as 2010, Paris had come under fire from Amnesty International for attempting to deport several hundred French Roma to Bulgaria and Romania, without regard of where they were actually from or whether they lived in the much-maligned "camps" — in 2013 there was another polemic episode called the "Leonarda case". Several other countries have also come under fire from the United Nations and Amnesty International for segregationist policies.
One of the very few exceptions to the treatment of Romani as social pariahs can be found in Soviet Union, and in modern Russia. Contrary to the case in Western Europe, while Ruska Roma are certainly subject to prejudice and bigotry, there's been a huge co-opting of Romani culture in Russia since the 19th, but especially in the 20th century - particularly poetry, music, dance, and theater, all of which were considered a form of "high folk culture" in the USSR. While some Roma were targeted during the Purges and the whole population suffered enormously during the Second World War, it also cemented many components of Roma culture into Soviet folklore, particularly entertainment. Combined with a more serious attempt to assimilate Romani communities, and their status as a small but legitimate Soviet nationality, the Iron Curtain divide between Communist and Capitalist Roma was unusually reversed, with the image of affluent, socially-accepted Romani living in the USSR compared to the outcast Romani living in Western Europe—indeed, unlike the case in the West, the stereotype of Roma in the former-USSR more closely resembles the longstanding American stereotype of Jews: clever, frugal, well-traveled and with an assumed talent towards entertainment and music. Some of the most successful Romani musicians and playwrights were made People's Artists of the USSR, and some enjoyed such a degree of fame and success, like Jazz Vocalist Valentina Ponomaryova, to even have their LPs distributed in the United States in the same period. The collapse of the USSR has seen a decline in institutional Romani arts (now often seen as outdated or old-fashioned, not unlike other examples of Soviet culture), but the legacy of national promotion has endured: the largest Roma theater in the world still operates in Moscow, and its performances are considered on par with other institutions like the Red Army Choir (the two groups have shared the stage on no less than Eurovision, and the Choir's dance ensemble practices Romani dance), and Romani performances are still popular for holidays, birthdays, and public celebrations.
Despite generally avoiding assimilation in most ways, Romani do generally follow whatever faith is dominant where they live. Originally they were Hindu; few practice it today but some trace elements survive syncretically. In Western Europe they are mostly Catholic, in Eastern Europe, they are usually Orthodox, in the Middle East primarily Muslim, and in the Balkans, they are divided between Islam and Orthodoxy. A growing Pentecostal movement is also found in Roma communities in the United States and Spain. The Patron Saint of Christian Romani is St. Sarah, also known as Sara-la-Kali. She hasn't been formally canonized by any church and many anthropologists believe she is a Christianized version of the Hindu goddess Kali. The Romani, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia, also bear some less clearly defined syncretic beliefs in the Keshali and very complex demonology. See Romani Mythology for details.
There is no significant relation (ethnic or etymological) to the Romans or the Romanians. Sometimes the two are confused, which is probably because the "â" used in the native name for Romania gets lost in the English translation.note There is also no connection between the Romani and Irish Travellers beyond a historical reputation for a nomadic lifestyle and skill at boxing.
Depictions of Romani in fiction:
- Blood+: Haji/Hagi is implied to be a Romani in childhood, but he never actually identifies as one after he is adopted by the first Joel Goldschmidt.
- Cowboy Bebop: Faye deliberately plays into the stereotypes (for whatever reason) in an attempt to get Spike to let her go. Since she's actually from Singapore, it's a miracle he buys it in the first place.
- Kaze to Ki no Uta: Serge Battour, the protagonist, is half Romani from his mother Parva's side and avoids all the associated stereotypes. He is probably the most sympathetic and endearing character in the entire series.
- Kurobara Alice: The lead character Dimitri is half Romani and half Polish; his mother is mentioned to have German blood as well. He spent his early years with his mother's Romani group until he's "discovered" by a rich Austrian family and taken in as a boarding student.
- The Twin Knights: Emerald is the free-spirited Queen of the Gypsies. She wears a tiny dress, dances wildly, and hates the thought of living by rigid social rules. There's also Mercedes, a hag-like fortuneteller and potion maker, and various other stereotypically-dressed types. Of note is that Emerald claims "Gypsies are above all else devout!"
- The Secret Garden: The Canon Foreigner Camilla is implied to be Roma, but the word itself isn't said. She has the archetypal looks/wardrobe and the OP shows her looking into a Crystal Ball, but she's more of a mix of Cool Big Sis and Broken Bird.
- Castle Waiting: "Gypsies" are introduced as horse thieves, murderers, and scoundrels with ties to people who buy babies. It fits with the fairy tale themes, but still has bad implications. Thus, the next one is honest, upstanding, and likable, and every indication is that the band he comes from is generally nice people.
- DC Comics:
- Batman: A plotline in the comic strip of the 1940s had a Gypsy lad framed for murder. The Gypsy is dressed in colorful clothing, hot-tempered, especially when it comes to the honor of his sister, and distrustful of the police and legal system.
- Justice League: Generation Lost: In an issue, Ice suddenly has been retconned to be a member of a Scandinavian Romani offshoot that is all con men and thieves except for her immediate family, who fled the lifestyle to prevent her grandfather from using her ice powers for robbery. This flatly contradicts everything we know about Ice's past, including previous appearances of the immediate family.
- Justice League of America: Gypsy is sometimes Romani, sometimes not, Depending on the Writer. She did start as basically a street thief.
- Nightwing was revealed to be Romani during the Devin Grayson run. Grayson confirms it's still canon as of the New 52.
- "Kiekeboe": In one issue, most Gypsies are actually honest people whose worst crime is begging, though there is one who gives the rest a bad name by stealing.
- "Klezmer", by Joan Sfar: One of the main characters is a gypsy who ends up joining the other protagonists in forming a klezmer band as klezmer and Romani music have enough similarities for him to fake it.
- Marvel Universe:
- Doctor Doom is a Rom from Latveria. He's unambiguously villainous, but a complete aversion of the Gypsy stereotypes; he's a technical genius. He still grew up amongst superstitious folk living in horse-drawn caravans though. And let's not even get started on his mother, the demon-summoning sorceress. On the other hand, Doom is a vocal activist for Romani rights, and they are some of the few people associated with a villain who are treated sympathetically in Marvel Comics.
- Nightcrawler was raised by gypsy sorceress Margali Szardos. His Excalibur teammate Meggan AKA Gloriana is Romani too. In Captain Britain and MI13 Annual #1, a flashback of her childhood shows her and her family running into some bigoted Englishmen and she shapeshifts into a hideous Gypsy stereotype.
- Scarlet Witch and her twin Quicksilver, depending on when in time we check their backstory (not counting some months at the beginning where they were thought to be the children of Miss America and the Whizzer), are either:
- Half-Romani, half-Jewish. They were raised in a pretty stereotypical Gypsy caravan by a cow. Their father Magneto was retconned as being a Gypsy, rather than Jewish, in the early 90s. Apparently, when Marvel decided to build him up as a major villain in the Fatal Attractions crossover, they worried about the negative response to having a clearly Jewish villain. However, Gypsies were still Acceptable Targets. Fortunately, a later Author's Saving Throw returned Magneto to his Jewish roots.
- Or fully Romani, raised by their aunt and uncle, because they have a Retroactive Legacy and bringing children into the life of the Scarlet Witch is weird and dangerous. This backstory doesn't answer where Magneto's twins went though.
- Minor villain and one-time Thunderbolts member Skein is of Romani descent, even originally going by the codename Gypsy Moth. She's largely characterized as a Femme Fatale who only joined the Thunderbolts because it seemed fun, and left as soon as it stopped interesting her.
- Maus: The Romani make a brief appearance, with Anja seeking the services of a fortune teller who says Vladek is still alive. In tune with the rest of the book's Funny Animals theme, the fortune teller is portrayed as a gypsy moth.
- Le Scorpion: Mejaï provides the page picture for Hot Gypsy Woman. She is not a thief, but a Master Poisoner and the only people she seems to care about are Scorpion himself (after she pulls a HeelFace Turn) and her black cat.
- Tales of the Green Lantern Corps: One story has a close-knit society of space-travelers, whose ships resembled caravans. Since they refuse to take help from outsiders, the local GL empower one of their number with a power ring. There is a bit of Romani stereotyping involved: the temp-Lantern is a self-aggrandizing hothead and his grandmother a wise woman.
- Tintin: Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald has a camp of Gypsies setting up in a dump just downwind from Marlinspike. Captain Haddock then generously lets them camp out closer to his house, to the objection of his butler. Things soon go missing from the manor, which leads to everyone looking at the gypsies suspiciously. It turns out a magpie did it. It's actually a much more sympathetic portrayal of the Romani people than a lot of others.
- Viz: A comic strip titled "The Thieving Gypsy Bastards" features a family of gypsies, who look like stereotypical Romani but have an Irish name, suggesting they were intended to be Irish Travellers. They move into a middle-class area and steal and vandalise everything in sight. The next issue contains a cut-out apology to all Romani and travelers, subtitled "what every gypsy's been waiting for!"
- Angel of the Bat: As in canon, Dick Grayson/Nightwing is of Roma descent. He considers himself a Christian, but mentions traveling with the circus never permitted him much time to study his faith. His first scene also shows him to be a trickster, playing off the stereotypes of Roma being superstitious to grill an enemy which ironically is a Double Subversion, considering Roma are also stereotypically connected to deceit.
- Child of the Storm: Wanda Maximoff is half-Romani as per usual and was raised by her mother's clan after her father abandoned her as a newborn baby (in fairness, he had excellent reason to think that she was dead, along with her mother) though her brother, Pietro, probably isn't, since he's her half-brother instead of her twin (and a brat, apparently). Aside from her vast magical power and being stunningly beautiful, she shows no signs of the traditional stereotypes. Part of Wanda's antagonism towards her father comes from the fact that, while she gets perfectly well where he's coming from on how mutants will be hated, feared and persecuted, having been raised Romani and experienced it herself, she thinks that he's no better than them or the Nazis who persecuted him (he was in his megalomaniac phase).
- A Different Future: Harry is adopted by a family of wizarding Gypsies when the Dursleys try to abandon him on the steps of a church. They give him a potion to make him look more like one of the family and the name Alex, pretending that he is the twin brother of their daughter, Beth. The author has clearly done some research on the Romani and shows them in a good light, and it's mentioned that Harry's adoptive grandparents survived The Holocaust.
- "Creation Of The World" ("Stworzenie świata") is a Polish short animated film based on one of the Romani fairy tales collected by Jerzy Ficowski in Gałązka z drzewa słońca (Twig of the Sun Tree).
- Disney Animated Canon:
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The stereotyped depiction of the Gypsies is somewhat justified by the setting, and the group as a whole are presented as sympathetic victims of Frollo's overzealous desire for religious purity in Paris. Basically, the bad guys in the film think the Gypsies are thieves, but they're really just extremely colorful and eccentric people. There's also one scene where Esmeralda reads Quasimodo's palm, but this is mostly an entire fabrication she uses to conceal the Aesop she's trying to teach him. This may seem to be perpetuating the stereotype of the Roma as con men, particularly with Quasimodo's extreme naivete, except she's only doing it to help him. Quasimodo himself is Romani, but he was raised by Frollo without much knowledge of his past.
- Robin Hood: The titular fox disguises himself as a Romani fortune teller to rob from Prince John.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa: Ed meets several Romani (including Scar and Lust's alters in a quick shot at the end) who are being persecuted in Nazi Germany. He becomes best friends with a mystical dream-reading Romani, Noah. Incidentally, she's not all that honest, either, though her dishonesty stems from being persecuted. Noah tells Edward that the proper term for her people is "Roma"/"Rom".
- Broken Iris' "Gypsy" compares an alluring and mysterious woman to a Romani woman.
- Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" may or may not be about actual Romani.
- Donovan's songs are full of references to gypsies, especially to his friend "Gypsy Dave" Mills. Mills is blood, by Dono's description, and he has other Romany and Irish Traveler friends.
- The traditional British folk ballad "The Gypsie Laddie" tells the story of a Romani who seduces a gentlewoman. A lord pursues her, either her husband or father, but she refuses to return with him, preferring the company of her gypsy lover to the comforts of her estate. The song has many different variations and titles.
- Heather Alexander and her Heir, Alexander James Adams, have a few songs that play off "The Gypsy Laddie": "Black Jack Davy" and "The Rogues Return" supposedly tell the "real" tale about how the gypsy lad leaves the noble woman the next day to run off, and she pursues him to get revenge as The Black Jacks Lady.
- Jennifer Lopez's "Ain't it Funny": In the video, the singer makes friends with some Romani women and meets and dances with a very handsome Romani man.
- Kendji Girac, the Season 3 winner of the French version of The Voice, proudly embraces his Spanish Romani roots throughout the season in his flamenco guitar renditions of all his personal song choices. His first official single was "Color Gitano" (Gypsy Color).
- Mecano's "Hijo de la Luna" features a Romani woman so desperate for a husband she offers her first child to the moon. When the child is born pale of skin and hair, the father flips out thinking she's had an affair and murders her before abandoning the baby in the mountains to die.
- Rudyard Kipling's The Gipsy Trail in a loose Russian translation and complemented with music (by Andrei Petrov) was used in a Soviet classic film "A Cruel Romance". The song immediately became a big hit on its own right. The movie itself got five export releases.
- Woven Hand's "Oil on Canvas" features the line "Roma, Roma, where is my country?" Your guess is as good as mine what it has to do with the rest of the song.
- The Shadow: The villain of "Malmordo" uses prejudice against "Gypsies" to frame them as accomplices in his crimes. The Romani in the story are actually pretty law-abiding sorts, although they play to the fortune-telling and violinist stereotypes to make a living. The Shadow himself speaks fluent Romani.
- Brand: The Romani are quite prominent, and it is clearly stated that Gerd is one of them. The harsh way they are treated by the lawmen in the play indirectly causes the death of Agnes, the wife of the eponymous character.
- G1 My Little Pony has an orange pony with a tambourine symbol named "Gypsy".
- El Goonish Shive: The "Goonmanji" story. The Shop Monster appears like a stereotypical Romani.
- The Glass Scientists: Rachel Pidgley, one of the main secondary characters, is Romani. She's best friends with Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde) and works as the cook at Jekyll's Society for Arcane Sciences. She also has a major crush on a werewolf named Jasper.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Anja Donlan is a Romani. She has impressive magic abilities, while her husband (who's a Scotsman) is Gadgeteer Genius, though she's also tech-savvy enough to be a science teacher and he somehow got an Amplifier Artifact he gave her. Together, they found the common ground quickly enough and made a "computer" that runs on magic and provides a lot of useful effects. Evidently, she also has some skill with tattoo. Their daughter Kat took entirely after her father, and so far has no magic. Instead, she's a gadgeteer prodigy who invents antigravity and builds robots in her spare time, and still doesn't believe in magic despite her best friend's very obvious magic powers.
- Ozy and Millie: One of Llewellyn's ancestors falls in with 'Gypsies' in a short arc, and his falling out is used as an explanation of Ozy's fur always falling out at some point. Notably, the Rom he meets plays up the stereotype for a living, and the 'curse' she gives to his family (how many dragons have hair?) ends up redundant once you get to know Millie.
- Rasputin Barxotka: Much of the action takes place in the fictional Romani settlement of Nicotash. Most of the lead characters are either Calo or Ruska Romani. Tsar Rasputin, a Russian-born Chechen is also part Kalderash Rom.
- SCP Foundation:
5) Despite what Dr. Dumount says, Cigarettes are healthy. Smoking is good. Dr. Dumount is just a gypsy and is lying to you.
- SCP-983 ("The Birthday Monkey"). The person who sold SCP-983 warned that it shouldn't be touched by anyone on their birthday, but that the warning might be just a Gypsy legend.
- While the proudly Russian Captain Dmitri Arkadeyevich Strelnikov has a particular hatred for Chechens, he also uses "gypsy" as an insult. Behold some of his Rules For Make Live by:
6) Never trust Gypsy. (The subsequent advice is entirely censored)
[On using calibers other than Soviet standards:] Is simply bullshits made up by Gypsy westerner to makes you believe that Soviet-design weapon is inferior to western complicated bullshits like AR-15.
- Whateley Universe Gypsy is a Romani who owns ancestral Tarot deck. However, she is shy (at first), honest, and has mutant powers. She cures the shyness with a literal Deal with the Devil.
- Courage the Cowardly Dog: Shirley the Fortune Teller (who is a chihuahua). While she can occasionally act as an antagonist, this is either due to "the Stupid One" (read "Eustace") invoking her wrath, or circumstances beyond her control. She is often willing to help... for a fee. Her magical tool of choice? A saxophone.
"I see... I see... A yo-yo. It is under de sofa."
- Filmation's Ghostbusters: Madame Why, a heroic example. Her crystal ball was often a useful source of exposition.
- Futurama: Romani Fortune Teller robot was also a Con Artist.
- Inspector Gadget: An episode focusing on Romani portrays them as living exclusively in caravans and being very festive.
- Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: In "A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts", the gang meets a Gypsy Fortune Teller who gives them dire warnings. She turns out to be the episode's villain in disguise.
- The Simpsons:
- On one Treehouse of Horror episode, a Romani fortune-teller places a curse on the Simpsons after Homer ruins her business (and expresses a fear of police), and later in the episode the rest of her family seems to match up with the "filthy, hairy transient" stereotype, as Marge comments.
- In another episode, Roma have taken over the playground of Springfield Elementary and are seen stealing a frisbee from a small child.
- Milhouse once claimed to be a gypsy so he'd be allowed to wear an earring at school. He doesn't succeed, effecting the wrong stereotype, but Skinner notes that vampires are also exempt.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): In an episode, the Turtles travel back in time to medieval Transylvania, where they team up with a Romani father and daughter to stop Savanti Romero from recruiting Dracula.
- Teen Titans: Cyborg explains that he bought a pie with an evil witch trapped inside it from "this old gypsy" who was selling "mystical items at reasonable prices", including a monkey's paw.