Romani community opinion divided over new Czech Television sitcom with Romani characters
The Czech comedy series "Most!", produced by Petr Kolečko and Jan Prušinovský, is being regularly watched every Monday night by more than one million viewers (in a country of 10 million people). Last week episode four was set at the Chanov housing estate in the town of Most, and the number of viewers was the highest so far, at 1.46 million.
The Chanov episode has sparked a great deal of discussion among Romani social network users. For the director of the ARA ART organization, David Tišer, the most recent episode was a big disappointment, while others believe the significance of a comedy series should not be overestimated.
"The big anticipation around the Most series has collapsed like a house of cards with the fourth episode. While during the previous three episodes all of the characters introduced were 'morons', by the fourth episode only the Romani characters are," Tišer posted to his Facebook profile.
"The fourth episode is not about hyperbole, but is full of strong stereotypes and stupid (not intelligent) humor," Tišer posted, adding that while non-Romani characters are developing in the series, the Romani ones are not. "It's just a mess of prejudices and stereotypes after all. Actually it's chilling to realize that everybody in that series has a higher IQ than the Romani characters. [...] The Roma are, again, the ones who don't know how to speak, who use the wrong words, who don't know how to read or write, who pull out a knife at the first opportunity [...]."
Some Romani community members disagree with that analysis. "Each of us sees it from our own perspective. I don't want to force anything on anybody, but some of you are losing contact with reality," journalist Richard Samko responded to Tišer.
"This is just a story of people in a small town where many people do live in this way, and there's a lot of hyperbole in it," Samko said, adding that he sees more positive things in the series. "Whenever there's a problem, the Romani character Franta is there to help - played by Zdeněk Godla."
"It bothers me that any film about Roma is always just negative," responded the musician Petr Cirok of the Funky Brothers band. Simon Slanina, the newest member of the Czech Government's Council on Roma Minority Affairs, sees the series differently, though.
"It's a classic black comedy [...] Let's not make a bigger problem out of this than it actually is," Slanina posted.
Romani studies scholar Renata Berkyová is also defending the series. "It's all a lot of hyperbole, and that's how I take it. I think 'normal' people take it that way as well. It's important to laugh at ourselves and at all those stereotypes. Otherwise we will be eternally building a wall around ourselves," she responded.
The activist Monika Mihaličková agrees with Tišer, though. "If Romani actors were to appear in films and television series in normal roles as well, if it were to be balanced, then that would be ok. Naturally, I get what the Czech director was after here. I laughed at some of those moments too. Of course I was aware that this is not reality and that every Czech and every Romani person is not as demented as they are all being portrayed. The problem is not in the series. It's in the fact that so few Romani people are ever depicted on television - and when they are, it's always stereotypically," she said, asking "How much space do we even get on Czech Television so that we, as Romani people, don't always have to be ashamed by what we see on tv?"
Director Prušinovský admitted in an interview for ROMEA TV that the series distorts reality, adding that he was surprised by what Chanov looks like when one is actually there. "From the newspaper headlines I thought Chanov was an enormous ghetto. All of that is overblown," he said.
Fake Facebook page is accumulating fans
The fourth episode also introduces the device of a fictional Facebook page called "Dark Distress" (Snědá tíseň), and a page with that name was actually established by the series producers during the filming of the show. After the episode introducing it aired, the page accumulated almost 11 000 followers.
The first 1 000 fans "liked" the page during the first 10 minutes after the fourth episode was broadcast. The page has been online since July 2017 and happens to feature an image reminiscent of one of the controversial "Czech-Romani" flags produced by the artist Tomáš Rafa several years ago, a design combining elements of the Czech national flag and the Romani flag.
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