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Dear Hollywood, Gypsy Curses? NOT Okay.

Dear Hollywood, Gypsy Curses? NOT Okay.

About a week ago I read a review for the new Sam Raimi horror flick Drag Me To Hell. The description offered went something like:

Christine Brown is  a loan officer at a bank. When she refuses to give an old Gypsy woman an extention on her loan, the woman curses her to be dragged to hell.

My immediate thought was: Gypsy curses? Really, Sam Raimi? Really? This is the best you could come up with? I hate you.

Nick Mamatas explains it all here much better than I could because he actually saw the movie. The bottom line is: that’s some seriously fucked up prejudice and stereotypes that should not be acceptable at all. AT ALL. It’s like the dark side to the whole Magical Negro thing — Magical VooDoo/Witch Doctor/Evil Gypsy Person who will curse you with their evil, heathen magic if you do something like steal their jewelry, deny them their loan, kill their daughters, or just look at them the wrong way.

This is not okay. It’s just not. Do people who write this shit even get that Gypsies are real people? Do they think they’re some sort of made-up folktale people who only exist for our amusement? If so, what the fuck is wrong with those people?

Movie makers, TV creators, fiction writers: stop with the Gypsy curses, already. It is: NOT Okay.

38 comments to Dear Hollywood, Gypsy Curses? NOT Okay.

  • maevele

    okay, not like i expect a sam raimi movie to be tasteful and free of horrible cliches, but this is just a very special type of fucked up.

  • deakat

    I wish my powers of precognition had been working a week ago, so that I could have read that review and avoided seeing the movie. Silly me… I thought that I could watch it with subversive intent and cheer on the gypsy woman. It seemed to me that Raimi did his best to try to turn her into a disgusting monster, so that we would empathize with the skinny white girl instead. Had I attended the flick by myself, I would have walked out shortly after it began.

  • Lori S.

    All I saw was the preview, and my first thought was, “If she’s so damn powerful, why doesn’t she just cast a spell and make the chick *give* her a loan? Or better yet, just whistle up the money.”

  • DigitalCoyote

    Are we really surprised by this? He dresses his little brother and other cast members in yellow- and blackface like it’s no thing.

  • Scott

    Good post. Lenny Bruce once observed, everyone in New York sees gypsies, but did you ever know anybody who was tight with a gypsy? I lived upstairs from a gypsy family for three years. We got along. I walked their dog. They taught me how to read palms, but Romani are pretty inward-looking, suspicious and prefer to have us leave them alone more than promote dialogue. If Jews or people of color had done the same, we’d all still be living in 1890.
    I’ve met Sam Raimi. He graduated from Tisch Film. Enough said. I like Evil Dead, Xena and Spiderman, but Sam is not a deep thinker. My contention that Romani need to be open to dialogue doesn’t suggest that Raimi is not simply a lazy tool. Lori S. is right. If gypsies were so freaking powerful, why do they remain the most internationally persecuted people on the planet?

  • Jackie M.

    Still cheering for the little old gypsy lady….

  • Aaminah

    whew… i’m so glad that i wasn’t the only one thinking this. now, i love me a ridiculous and scary horror movie, i do. but i saw the commercials and was wondering, so i watched the previews online and really was like “wtf?!?”.

  • nojojojo

    Scott,

    I lived upstairs from a gypsy family for three years. We got along. I walked their dog. They taught me how to read palms, but Romani are pretty inward-looking, suspicious and prefer to have us leave them alone more than promote dialogue. If Jews or people of color had done the same, we’d all still be living in 1890.

    Do you blame them? Between Sam Raimi, and you stereotyping and blaming them for their own oppression, they can’t win for losing. Dude.

    I’m not sure you intended to come across this way, but can you check your language in the future, so you don’t?

    • actually, I didn’t read Scott’s comment that way (but I’m biased, because I know him). I wouldn’t characterize the notion that Romani would rather be left alone than engage in dialogue “blame” but rather “a reason for their actions”. I can see how not wanting to deal with outsiders (which is how I’ve typically heard this expressed, but must admit I don’t know for sure if it’s actually the case) is a natural reaction to oppression and persecution. I can also see how that could be detrimental to fighting said persecution, but that isn’t the fault of the Romani, but the people who think: “well, they don’t complain about the evil gypsy woman stereotype, so it must be okay!”

      anyway, that’s how I read it.

      • I’m in the midst of writing up a long post on Intersectionality, and part of it will concern the comment above. But I wanted to state here, for the record, that the comment above is full of fail and I apologize. I did what I’ve repeatedly asked others not to do. And I’m going to do better in the future.

        • what’s wrong with all of you it’s just a movie while I’m sure that the Romanians are not at all like the old lady in the movie it is just a movie and the fact that so many people are taking offense to it just shows that racism and such will never die now I’m not racist at all I don’t see color and I have to say that its sad that you can’t even make a movie about something with someone reading way to much into I mean if someone in Hollywood made a movie about someone who were africanamerican or asian or some other ethic background and that character had something happen to him or her in that movie somebody would say something about the people making the movie being racist or something I mean come on its BS man I mean these days you can’t do anything without offending someone so I guess that defeats my purpose of writing this reply one last thing we can’t use racisim and stereotism and things like that for excuses and ammo for everything (p.s. they could’ve given the old lady in the movie a better reason to cast such a horrible curse on that girl though lol)

          • Myesha

            Hon, Romani’s are definitely NOT romanians. romanians hate us. and you are right to a point, the fact remains that Romani [gypsy] people are the most seen and simultaneously unrecognized minority group in europe and everyone in America thinks we dont exist. Nobody knows that millions of gypsies died in the holocaust, people think its just jews and homosexuals. Being gypsy in europe is a kin to being black in the 60′s… not fun. There are places we cant go, jobs we cant get hired for etc. etc. and a lot of times this is federal law. So I understand that many people cry racism, but when that racism is EXTREMELY active and isnt widely called attention to, its no longer history its outright insult. Just the fact that you didnt know that Romani’s are not Romanians points out the fact that people in the world are painfully uneducated about our situation. People continue to think that being gypsy is a lifestyle like being a hippy, but we’re an ethnic group, and we dont put weird curses on people because they dont extend our loans.

            if they made a movie about black people melting people with their eyeballs, and everybody really believed that, then that would be a similar situation. Doesnt that sound a bit ridiculous?

  • Liz Williams

    Here via Facebook.

    It’s a terrible cliche and they really should have avoided it. I do deal with one elderly gypsy woman in town (she’s Irish, not Romani) and our interactions are somewhat stereotyped insofar as she is our supplier of bunches of heather. I end up doing healing stuff on her (she has diabetes and I gather has regular hospital appointments). She’s never cursed anyone as far as I know! – though she doesn’t half push it in terms of bargaining for cash.

    My later partner came from a fairground background and lived with some travellers in the late 50s – he did not, I must say, have a good word to say for this particular group: they regarded everyone outside their immediate clan as prey, a word that was explicitly used by them. (They used no magic whatsoever, BTW). But the social dynamic between the travelling communities and settled people in the UK has been so disastrous over the last few centuries that one can’t really expect much else.

    Country witches (cunning folk) in the UK certainly did curse people, up until relatively recently. I do somewhat object to modern Wicca’s increasing attempts to sentimentalise and sanitise the practices of our ancestors.

    I have had a weekend of dealing with voodoo, as we were approached on Friday by some people from London
    wanting magical protection. This is a matter of magical gang warfare – their rivals have hired someone, so now they need to hire someone, too. It may be a cliche, and I’d wince if I saw it in a movie, but they take it extremely seriously. It might be worth noting, however, that a lot of what people think of as the bloodier aspects of this set of practices (some of the sacrificial stuff) do not originate in African paths and are in fact French, coming across to the New World via 18th and 19th century popular grimoires and thence to the African continent, and back again. There is definitely a strongly racist bias in the way that voodoo/santeria etc are perceived today, when they’re pretty much in line with standard European magical practices, rather than modern Wicca.

  • An excellent book that provides the history of persecution of the Roma by everyone, as well as their great contributions to music, is Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians (2005), by Garth Cartwright.

    Love, C.

  • Zahra

    Scott, I disagree. In my experience French-Canadian communities in New England have a long history of responding to language and religious prejudice by being inward-looking, suspicious, and keeping their heads down rather than promoting dialogue. But I don’t see them stereotyped in pop culture, or trapped in that earlier era; I think rather they’ve been subsumed into the larger mass of undifferentiated white people.

    So I think there’s something different going on, with the dominant culture deciding who gets acceptance and who gets to play the role of the crazy cursing lady, regardless of how the community responds to the oppression.

  • romanyg

    Scott,

    I have to disagree as well (and frankly, it’s taken me over two hours to calm down enough to use the word ‘disagree’) on a few points. First off, I think the Lenny Bruce quote serves as an example of a racist remark which you did not use ironically. Romani is a big word that includes many nations, so I can’t tell from your comment if your neighbors were Roma, Sinti, Kale or even Lom or Domari (who are not Rom but related and also called ‘gypsy’ by the world at large). In other words, not monolithic. Also, why was it their job to serve as cultural ambassadors? To satisfy your curiosity?

    If Jews or people of color had done the same, we’d all still be living in 1890.

    Romani *are* people of color. And just because you’re not aware of Romani activism does not mean it doesn’t exist.

    • ugh, okay, I completely failed on this one. My apologies :(

    • Kali Ruv

      Thank you. The Rroma can only benefit from dialogue. In solemn context, these statements are sound. For me, ignorance can’t interface with this. Hollywood and other like entities feed on ignorance for the ultimate goal of profit. To be fair, fortune tellers and such do the same thing. This ignorance doesn’t care about cultural fairness or humane propriety. It’s operating on another plane. In a way, out of context. This is the failure that happens when dealing with such a broad subject and most people aren’t qualified to speak as an authority, only express what they have heard.

    • 01

      Hey, Romani aren’t necessarily colored anymore! There are plenty of us – especially in the United States and the UK – who have, over the generations, become too pale to be considered “colored.” Have you ever heard of the story “And the Violins Stopped Playing: A Story of the Gypsy Holocaust”? The main character, “Roman Mirga,” was as white and blond and blue-eyed as a Swede, and he experienced Porajmos just as much as his darker-skinned family. This was a very true, very famous story!

      Besides, what’s the hang up over skin color these days? To me, being Romani transcends something as insignificant as skin color.

      But you’re completely right: we are not monolithic, and there’s lots of activism going on. I don’t think it’s as visible in places like the US because there’s not as much of a need for it compared to, say, the Iron Curtain. At least we are not stoned and abused legally in the US. (Not that I’m saying it’s a cake walk, either.)

      … Honestly, this movie didn’t offend me. My Romani grandmother raised me properly, but I still laugh at the crystal ball bit. If the worst Americans can do is give us a rather B.A. role in a C-list horror film, I’m not…too worried, really. There are worse fates. I can laugh at my own culture. I don’t take myself too seriously. But that’s just me. If I talked like this around my elders, I think I’d get…unhappy looks.

      • Myesha

        doesnt matter how light you are, there are red headed afghanis, and blonde arabs. if your Rom, you aint white, and if your not white you are most definitely a person of color. I totally dig the rest of what your saying though.

  • Jonathan

    This reminds me of two other similar curse plot lines, one in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Angel’s soul is restored by a “gypsy curse”, and the other in the upcoming animated Disney movie The Princess and the Frog where an evil “voodoo doctor” is responsible for the amphibian transformation.

  • The accusation that a persecuted people a responsible for their persecution because they are separate from mainstream society is tautological. It has been applied over and over to Jews and people of color, and used to justify further suspicion and exclusion.

    Romani people are not very visible in the US, compared to other parts of the world. Americans have very little chance to see Roma as a community, or to interact with them at even a minimal social level.

    I highly recommend this excellent website, The Bringing of the Bones, part of a decades-long project by the remarkable Austin photographer/artist Martha Grenon.

  • Thejudge

    “If gypsies were so freaking powerful, why do they remain the most internationally persecuted people on the planet?”

    Allow me to give you some insight on the Romani so that you may become aware. The Romani entered Europe via India a little prior to the 13th century. Although they entered legally when there was a need for labor, they were enslaved just as Africans. They were commonly sold in groups and if they tried to run away, they had the bottoms of their feet burned, they had their lips cut off, lynched etc. When they were finally set free, they were not given land, or education. So in essence they were forced to fend for themselves and continued traveling in groups just as they were conditioned to do in slavery.
    Now, because I am an American who had no idea of their history prior to moving to Italy, I felt a bit of disdain for them initially. However, now that I know, I have been forced to ask, ‘Wow, what if that were me?” It’s not easy being a perpetual stranger.

    • Myesha

      youre right about a LARGE porion of that but we didnt become nomadic because of slavery and there was only a portion of our populattion was enslaved.

      Weve been nomadic since we left india, and most of gypsy slavery occured in Romania while a portion of spanish gypsies were sent to the americas with the africans sometime later.

  • this reminds me of the cliche “indian burial ground” to explain the presence of evil in movies and on ghost-hunting tv shows. It’s really fucked up. In an episode of “Paranormal State” they used the Indian Burial Ground theory, (usually utilized when nothing else works because it’s a surefire way to get white viewers to feel all oooh hocus pocus about a situation) and they interviewed a local tribal elder and almost approached the subject of spirit and ancestors being justifiably pissed at this guy for degrading the land and for the general history of genocide against native people- but then they just ignored the elders warnings and blessed the land with catholic trinkets and holy water to make those evil indians go away.

  • Casey

    I understand the resent for the use of the monstrous gypsies in movies. There are very, VERY few Hollywood movies that depict Romanis or any other ethnic group associated with that ethnically adrogynous term “gypsy,” although I’m not sure I can say the same for the independent venues.

    I should clarify one thing, though: someone said that Raimi was doing his best to make the audience sympathize with Christine (the blond, attractive main character), and was direly wrong.

    Here’s the interview that tells otherwise:
    http://scifiwire.com/2009/05/is-drag-me-to-hells-heroi.php

    To paraphrase and summarize a bit, Raimi used the vehicle of the “gypsy curse” to make the audience feel BAD for sypmathizing with Christine.

    I strongly recommend that posters here read this.

    To the Angry Black Woman (because I don’t know your actual name, and that’s the screen name you’re posting under): I’m impressed that you were willing to tackle this issue. I think you should read the article I posted (but then of course I do, because I posted it!), and I’d like a reply detailing your sentiments since you seem to be willing to take the time to reply out of your posting time, unlike many other bloggers, online editors or publishers, etc.

    • deakat

      I’ll have to disagree with your opinion that I’m “direly wrong”. Raimi says in the interview that he wants us to identify with Lohman’s character, and make the decision to deny the loan along with her. It didn’t work with me.

  • Posonby

    deakat, I’ll have to disagree with your disagreement. Raimi clearly states in the interview “We all are nice people, but we’re all sinners, too. And I wanted you, the audience member, to make this choice with her.”

    Having the audience sympathize with Christine is NOT, I repeat NOT meant to be a good thing in Raimi’s eyes. He even further elaborates on that point several paragraphs later, saying “I had hoped that once you sinners had made that choice with her, that, like it or not, you would know in your heart that that thing that had been sicced upon her was not just coming for her, but deservedly so for you, because you had made that choice with her.”

    Does Raimi want the audience to sympathize with Christine? Yes, he says he does. But he does so to point out to the audience their own failings and misgivings as people. There’s a reason the movie ends the way it does, and there’s a reason the “heroine” is shown to be a pretty terrible person throughout it.

    • mommyfortuna

      That’s interesting, because I didn’t sympathize with Christine’s choice at all. When watching the movie I imagined we were supposed to understand that her choice was wrong, that she followed that with bad choices (killing the kitten? really?) and that she would have to work really, really hard to get redemption. I guess that’s why the rather cheap ending made me mad.

      Well, the whole movie was cheap, really, and reading this thread has just confirmed my feelings about it. I can’t stand movies in which the director tries to trick the audience that way, and basing it around the tired, offensive “gypsy cliche” trope makes it so much worse.

      Mr. Raimi, please return to Xena. That’s the last thing you really got right.

  • YouAllSuck

    Wow. You all act as if Sam Raimi was trying to be serious with this movie. Have any of you seen the Evil Dead Trilogy? This is not at all trying to be serious and if you’re so offended by prejudice and stereotypes just don’t watch the fucking movie. By all means, I’m not saying that prejudice and stereotypes should be accepted. But that was part of the humor of the movie. If you can’t accept that and move on with your life then atleast quit criticizing Raimi.

  • The movies I want to see in 2009 has to be Public Enemies, the story of John Dillinger and Johnny Depp always seems to choose great scripts and plays them well.

  • Shalama

    Very interesting post.

    I am of Persian Gypsy descent. I grew up for a large majority of my life, surrounded by Gypsy culture. (Though baring in mind, Gypsies from Iran are very much different than Romani Gypsies.) – If not different, perhaps I could say even more mystique in nomadic sense, and sense of lifestyle, ie: The hustling.

    My mother came from a heavy Gypsy background, she knew all the tricks of the trade, the mother tongue and the lingo.

    Coming from a real gypsy background, what does this movie make me think?

    - Glamorized.

    The curse of the Gypsy, IS in fact true… But nothing like in the movie. No…
    They WILL make your life a living hell, but with hustling, robbing, tricks and quick knitted thieving.
    EG: NEVER mess with a Gypsy.

    What do I think? The movie is a bit of a shambles. I don’t like it. But unfortunately, that Gypsy hag does remind me a bit of my mother. From what I’ve seen her do in the past

  • Michelle Karman

    I have not seen Drag Me To Hell, nor do I intend to. I am not a fan of Sam Raimi at
    all.

    Angry Black Woman, I agree with you about people of color being stereotyped. It
    is one reason I have
    my own website now.

    Gypsies were also stereotyped in Thinner, based upon the Stephen King novel written under his old pen name, Richard Bachman. Ol’ Stephen tends to do a great deal of stereotyping himself.

    Gypsy curses? Bah! If Gypsies could curse, they’d probably rid the world of white people
    and racism against their people. I know I would.

  • Tom

    How do people feel about the gypsies in The Wolf Man? Played magical, yes, but the old gypsy woman is the only character who tries to help Lon Chaney Jr. out of his predicament.

  • Kali Ruv

    The Rrom have actually been a slave race before they were in India. Once they left the middle east, they were enslaved by the Persians who then sent them to India.

  • Mooks

    Just saw the film last night and thought it was a lot of fun. As a gay man I was not upset with ‘Silence of the Lambs’ which, could be argued, had the same effect.

    Sadly Gypsies are treated horribly in Romania. At least the old woman won in the end.

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