1) Wanda and Pietro Maximoff in the MCU were whitewashed. They’ve been Romani in the comics for the last 42 years. If you don’t understand the nuances of Romani culture vs. Romani ethnicity vs. Romani genetics, you can read my original post on it right here. Or, if you don’t trust me as a source, the Roma Culture Centre discusses it right here.
2) MCU Wanda and Pietro willingly work with HYDRA (the ACTUAL NAZIS), and allow HYDRA to run experiments on them both. The most famous Romani superheroes in comic book history join the ACTUAL NAZIS in the MCU.
(ETA: Yes, they joined HYDRA willingly. They volunteered. That’s according to Marvel’s own website, found right here. “Years later, they both volunteered to undergo genetic experimentation overseen by HYDRA’s Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, using Loki’s scepter, to potentially give them powers.”)
Why would they do this? Wanda’s brief tenure in HYDRA in the comics (Secret Empire run) only happened because she was possessed by the Elder God Chthon; she never joined them willingly. If you’re unfamiliar with the Romani Holocaust, you can read about it right here.
3) The MCU draws most of its inspiration from The Ultimates. Writer Jeph Loeb made Wanda and Pietro’s relationship incestuous in The Ultimates, and the MCU decided, for some bizarre reason, to make this part of the films. Elizabeth Olsen admitted in interviews that they intentionally hinted at incest between the twins in Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you’re unfamiliar with incest as a Romani stereotype, that’s awfully lucky for you, but you can read about it right here.
4) Elizabeth Olsen is also an unrepentant racist. On The Graham Norton Show, all the way back in 2015, she used the word “Gypsy” to describe Wanda and was corrected by the host. The actress has never apologized. (Mark Ruffalo was also on the show, and apologized on Twitter for repeating the slur after Olsen said it.) Olsen didn’t apologize because she wasn’t sorry; it wasn’t the first or last time she’d done it. Elizabeth Olsen keeps using slurs and stereotypes in interviews, as recently as last month. If you don’t know the history of the word “Gypsy” in English, you can read about that right here.
If you went into the MCU with no prior knowledge of the comics, or with limited knowledge of the Romani people, I understand that. I even wrote a post about it that you can read right here.
Fortune-teller costumes are only the tip of the iceberg.
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This is follow-up to my earlier post on the new Marvel series Wandavision.
I got a really nice question about this, so I'll clarify why this show is the most offensive way to present a Roma woman's fantasy life, and why that matters in relation to Wanda Maximoff:
The “Magical Gypsy” Stereotype
Just to clarify: The word “gypsy” is a racial slur, and I’m using it to make a point about racial stereotypes. I’m not giving you permission to use it. If you aren’t Romani and/or Irish Traveller, that word is not for you.
If you’re familiar with the 1960s TV show Bewitched, you’ll have recognized that Wandavision is dressed up like an homage to that show. What you probably don’t know is that Bewitched was conceived as thinly-veiled allegory to interracial marriage, a major hot-button issue at the time. Samantha and her family were a different race from Darrin (Samantha’s husband), in that witches were not humans, strictly speaking. That culture clash was most of the show’s storyline.
It seems as if Samantha and her mother, Endora, were meant to stand-in for Roma women. The popular stereotype at the time was that Romani and Travellers were “mystical,” even magical. The “Magical Gypsy” is our most prominent stereotype. Bewitched’s premise fed right into that narrative, and Wandavision makes it even clearer.
Samantha deceives Darrin into marrying her by lying about her heritage, and then they spend the rest of the series fighting over whether Samantha should act “normal.” Samantha’s parents have no permanent home. They have century-old customs that baffle (and even frighten) Darrin and other humans. They’re sneaky, and they lie a lot, and they often use their powers for personal gain, including theft. The witches and warlocks look white, of course, but they aren’t really the same as the “normal humans” of the series. That hit a lot of Romani people where it hurt, back then and in reruns.
One of the witches is even named “Esmeralda,” in a direct nod to Victor Hugo’s famous Roma character.
The Maximoff Twins, Adoption, and Romanipen
The Maximoff twins, like many superheroes, have complicated backstories which have not been consistent from universe to universe. In the earliest universes, they are the children of Whizzer and Miss America. Later, they’re revealed to be the children of Magneto, eventually placed into the adoptive care of a Romani couple. In 616, it is retconned that the High Evolutionary tricked them into believing Magneto was their father--in fact, they aren’t mutants at all. Their mother is actually Natalya Maximoff, the sister of their adoptive father and a Roma woman.
So, they might be Romani children (born to Natalya). They might be the adoptive children of Django and Marya Maximoff, without any blood relation. It may seem to outsiders that these distinctions are important, but actually...
Romani people do not determine family through bloodlines, but through a concept called “romanipen.” A person born to two Romani parents, but raised by outsiders, is not considered Romani. A person born of non-Romani (or “gadjo”) parents is considered Romani if they’re raised in the community. There’s no such thing as the “Romani race.” Romani people are a culture, and you must be taught the culture to be considered one of us.
The Maximoff twins are just as Romani, either way.
There’s a long, painful history of Romani children being removed from their families by the state “for their own safety.” It happens in the USA, it happens in the UK, it happens all over mainland Europe. It’s happening right now. These losses are horrifying, not only on a personal level but also to the Romani culture. These children--often placed into social services for years, even if they aren’t adopted--are not being raised as Romani. They are not considered Romani children anymore. The government has completely stripped them of their cultural identity. This has devastated Romani populations in some countries, leading to full cultural genocide in only a few generations.
Assimilate to Survive
Nobody understands “hiding in plain sight” better than a Romani. There might be peoples who have experienced something equivalent--Jews, the disabled, and the queer community come to mind--but no one has needed assimilation more, or mastered it more completely. We have assimilated into every country we’ve ever lived. We go to your churches. We speak your languages. We wear your clothes and eat your food and laugh at your racist jokes.
When Wanda and Pietro Maximoff lose their family to war in the MCU, the Roma in me knows that pain. When Wanda is pursued by the government, when they try to cage and control her “for everyone’s safety,” the Roma in me is in that cage with her. When she’s made country-less, forced into exile, the Roma in me has never related to her more.
The alternatives to assimilation aren’t just horrible. They are genocide.
If you have a Romani in your school or workplace, you’ll probably never know it. We don’t tell people we’re Romani. Even admitting it anonymously on the internet feels like playing Russian roulette.
Watching Wanda Maximoff, a Roma superheroine, dream herself into perfect assimilation in time-after-time, place-after-place... That’s really fucking twisted. She dreams about being “normal.” She dreams about putting down roots. She’s constantly assaulted with the possibility that she might not be “normal” enough to live safely, or to have children. Assimilation is the story, here, and that is an integral part of what it means to be Romani.
But In the MCU, Wanda Maximoff Is Not Roma
We don’t have much representation in the media. The MCU strips Wanda of her cultural identity while maintaining all the bitter truths specific to our people. It’s an insult. This show is an insult.
The Romani have no voice on the international stage. We have no seats in congress (few politicians at all, outside Hungary). We have a handful of published writers, worldwide, and even fewer prominent actors onscreen. We are invisible, often by our own design. I have wrestled a lot with that as I’ve grown older. How much are we to blame for our own erasure?
But then I remember this:
And I remember that the Nazis killed nearly half of our total European population in World War II.
I remember this:
When the French government began forcibly deporting and “repatriating” their Romani population in 2010.
I remember that to be Romani means to live with a constant fear of homelessness, of statelessness. To teach your children to be chameleons. To be an outsider in the country where your grandparents were born. We don’t deserve to be erased, and it wasn’t right for Marvel to whitewash our pain.
Our pain is red. Blood red. Scarlet, even.
I hope that’s clear enough.
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