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May 19, 2022



COMMENTARY: Romani actors should refuse to perpetuate stereotypes in Czech television programs

25.9.2020 11:43
Romani actor Zdeněk Godla performing in a Czech public service announcement about donating plasma (2020). (PHOTO:
Romani actor Zdeněk Godla performing in a Czech public service announcement about donating plasma (2020). (PHOTO:

I want to make one thing clear from the outset: I am not writing this commentary to criticize Zdeněk Godla or any other Romani actors in the Czech Republic. What I want to discuss is how gadje [non-Romani] directors or screenwriters, in tandem with Romani actors, promote all the (long outdated!) clichés about Romani people that we see here on TV in the Czech Republic.

Imagine, for example, that you're watching a recent public service announcement. We hear Romani csardas music and we see a Romani man walk into a building and up to reception desk, behind which sits what appears to be some kind of hipster nurse.

Ok, maybe she's not really a nurse, and maybe she's not all that cute either. The Romani man then turns into a Cikán and, using the most moronic would-be degeš accent, says: "They say you're giving out plasma TVs here?"

Sure, he's a degeš and he's also a bonehead, because he is confusing blood plasma with plasma display panels. What else does the viewer expect - he's a Rom, right?

The entire "advertisement" continues in that vein, and because the Romani man is demented, the gadji-nurse has to show him, on her arm, where plasma comes from. Now let's cut to yet another video.

A Romani man is standing in a hole in the ground in a tracksuit (Adidas, more, of course!). A gadjo man asks him: "Patrik, do you know how to dig?" and the Romani man answers "You're kidding, right? You're asking a black guy if he knows how to dig, right? I was born with a pickaxe in my hand!" and as if that isn't enough, he launches into an intellectual outpouring explaining that "whatever Patrik fucked into the ground with a pickaxe, he didn't fuck into a woman."

Clearly these videos involve roles for a Romani actor - the character of Franta from the mini-series "MOST!", Patrik the digger, and then Franta from "MOST!" behaving a bit dilino in the public service announcement. I get it that Godla is an actor who is just doing his job.

If somebody is a musician, then sure, he plays guitar. If somebody is a mason, then of course he builds walls.

Do you all believe, though, Romale, that every Rom is either a ditch-digger or a garbage man? I understand that one simply must make money to pay the bills, but is it necessary to do so at any cost?

What might happen if it became common for Romani actors here to say: "I will not support these stereotypes?" According to opinion polls, about 80 % of the population in the Czech Republic hates Romani people today.

That is just a fact. If you ask them why, members of the majority society will answer that "Cikáni steal, cause trouble and are noisy" or some such nonsense they've heard their neighbors complain about.

Half of those who say such things have never actually met anybody Romani, but they've seen them on TV. Where have they been seen?

The vast majority of such content is included in news reports about crime (whether on Nova or Prima, it doesn't matter) and the rest is from the miniseries "MOST!", the "Sanitka" (Ambulance) series, and other episodic, absolutely imbecilic screenplays in which Romani people play criminals, degeše, demented people and murderers. The gadje see this and then actually believe that Franta on "MOST!" is just a simple-minded idiot because "cikáni are like that".

What the gadje will allow us Roma to do well is dance, or play music. Even a gadjo will ackowledge that we Roma are good at that kind of thing.

Sure - what else would they expect? They believe every Romani infant is born with a little tiny violin and begins tuning it about five minutes after delivery.

How could it be otherwise, right? Again, this is a stereotype.

It may be a "positive" one, but it is still a stereotype. I personally know many Romani people who are "anti-talents" when it comes to music, and when they begin singing, I make sure I'm not around.

"StarDance" and "Superstar" shows, beware! Now, I'm trying to envision what would happen if a Romani actor were to play the role of a doctor on "Ordinace" (Doctor's Office) or any other such serial.

I could imagine casting, for example, the Romani actors Milan Horvát or Vojta Lavička in the role of a surgeon. What would happen?

That we know already! Half of the audience would start getting angry and complaining that it is just not possible for a Romani man to be a surgeon.

Well... how could they believe it if they've never been shown that it's possible, right? There is a Romani surgeon in the Czech Republic, though.

He's a cardiac surgeon. He happens to be a fine surgeon.

That won't do, though, because the prototype of a Romani man here is, after all, a degeš who confuses blood plasma with a plasma screen TV. When will directors in the Czech Republic find the courage to cast Romani actors in roles other than those where Roma are criminals or idiots?

I understand that, for example, in the case of the film "Kájínek" there was actually no choice. That entire film was about crime and partially described situations that actually happened.

However, recall the episode of the medical drama "Sanitka" in which the director was dead serious about depicting Romani people here as nomads sitting around a fire, as murderers and thieves. All that episode needed was horses and music and it could have been a remake of that famous Russian film!

That episode was produced not that long ago, just seven years back. It's also true that some people spoke out against it at the time.

However, it seemed ok to most of the public - they just saw it as standard TV fare. What are the consequences of this?

Currently the image of a Romani actor is that of the character Franta from "MOST!" The Romani actress Mája Zajacová, for example, is highly unlikely to be cast in the role of a fairytale princess here, for example.

Zajacová performs in advertisements and as an extra ... wherever she can. She's even been in one foreign production.

When she's not acting, she works her fingers to the bone in a bar. You simply will never see her play the role of a normal (and beautiful!) Romani woman in a Czech film, though.

The concept of an intelligent Romani person who works just does not fit expectations here. Be that as it may, such a character would correspond to reality far more than that of a phuro Rom (like a vajda) sitting by a campfire somewhere.

All honor goes to the exceptions, such as Honza Cina, who has made it into some Czech serials in more substantive roles. However, as long as Roma don't find the courage and the opportunity to say "Sorry, man, I won't support these outdated stereotypes!" then Romani actors will continue performing as the dilino who confuses blood plasma with plasma screen TV.

Indirectly, all the rest of us are supporting this as well. How many Romani people were also amused when Godla played the degeš?

Now look around you ... is every Romani man here a ditch-digger, seriously? Probably not, right?

Giňa Tabarik, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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