by Helios Fernández Garcés
The short film Proud Roma, directed by filmmaker Pablo Vega and starring Roma actors and artists Alina Serban and Tony Gabarri, will be released on 25 January 2022 as part of the Proud Roma Free Europe campaign. The production revolves around a speech staged in the setting of the legendary film The Great Dictator by the great Charlie Chaplin. However, this is not just an entertaining short film whose allusion to Chaplin is a spontaneous whim. The fundamental intention of Proud Roma is, as musicologist and Roma researcher Gonzalo Peña maintains, “to appeal to Romani pride in order to mobilise our people”. Peña is, together with Pablo Vega, responsible for the speech which, evoking the one delivered by Chaplin in 1940, represents the main thread of the production.
An important part of the institutional neglect and marginalisation of the Romani people in contemporary European countries is related to the fact that, despite their presence on the territory even before many of the continent’s nations acquired their modern form, we do not have official data on the number of Romanis in Europe. The use of anonymous self-registration censuses managed by the community itself is therefore an essential tool for empowerment and political struggle. Unfortunately, centuries of oppression have had a terrible effect on the Roma community’s self-esteem, and many Roma have had to hide their identity in order to survive and save their families.
“We remain proud of who we are”
Proud Roma is about trying to heal, collectively and through art, the deep wounds that persecution has left in the collective spirit of an entire people. Therefore, this short film appeals to the international Roma community: “We are Sinti, Kalderari, Kalé, Manoush, Xoraxane, Lovari, Gurbeti, Gitano, Romanichal”, begins the powerful poetic speech recited by Alina Serban.
The main idea responds to the need to respect and celebrate the inner diversity of the Romani People without falling into sectarian divisions that have been artificially imposed from outside. “To do this, I wanted to focus on the essential values that all Roma in the world share, in the hope that all Roma can recognise themselves, feel proud and no one, ever again, will have to hide their belonging,” adds Gonzalo Peña. Therefore, this short film serves two purposes. On the one hand, it appeals to the self-esteem of a transnational nation that, despite centuries of oppression, is still alive and strong. On the other hand, it aims to mobilise this self-love so that the Roma population is politically present in the censuses that, every decade, European countries carry out to obtain demographic data.
There will be no peace without justice
Far from outdated and empty definitions, the values of the Roma people respond to the universal ideas of justice, peace and resistance. The international Roma community can be proud to belong to a part of the human family that has never tried to impose itself on other peoples or to colonise any nation or to start imperialist wars. However: “Throughout our long history, we have resisted the worst injustices. Chains were put on our hands and on our feet. We were enslaved, tortured, murdered, and persecuted”. Proud Roma does not recall these painful historical realities in order to victimise the Roma, but declares its intention to not remain silent and to continue to demand justice with the necessary dignity. Unfortunately, the methods of persecution of the Roma are not a phenomena of the past. For all these reasons, it is necessary to warn that this community may be a people of peace, but it is not a people willing to peacefully endure mistreatment.
Proud Roma rescues great references of Romani art and culture in Europe. Beings of light such as Esma Redžepova, Carmen Amaya or Mateo Maximoff, among many others, who represent what has been left out of the dominant official narrative about the heterogeneous Roma identity are mentioned as indispensable symbols of Romani pride. Their courage, bravery and creativity in defending the rights of the Roma people are the guide that articulates the pride of a nation that, even without a state, is still standing. And this nexus of love, respect and union is the heart of the Romani Resistance that was bequeathed by the ancestors hundreds of years ago. To feel this pride, to share it and not to give up is precisely the minimum that the current generations owe to the ancestors, without whose determination and rebelliousness, the Roma People would not continue to exist.
Proud Roma premieres online on 25 January. Find out more on the event page.