Esmeralda, Fairy Tales and Roma: The Image of Roma Characters in Сartoons

Try to remember a famous cartoon in which at least one character of Roma nationality is depicted. And now one, who has a home, does not dance and does not tell fortunes. It gets a little difficult. Cartoons are works of art capable of conveying certain messages to the audience or instilling behavioural patterns. The youngest of the audience cannot always analyse events in the context of the situation, they perceive information through visual and sound effects throughout the film. It is worth remembering the moral values suggested by the directors. Many times famous film companies get into public scandals, reflecting stereotypes in their films that are taken for granted. Read further in the article about the image that has been fixed for Roma in famous animated films 

Roma do not appear in cartoons so often, but mostly play the roles of minor characters. Among the most popular, we can mention the following: “Bremen musicians”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Three Heroes”, “Three Heroes. Horse Course”, “The Simpsons. Treehouse of Horror”.

A journalist from the American edition “The Atlantic” investigated that the use of various language peculiarities in cartoons to depict the character of the heroes affects the perception of other nationalities. With the help of timbre, dialect, speech, bad and good characters are distinguished (that is why positive heroes sing more often than villains), and nationalities are also distinguished.

This tendency is also visible in some of the cartoons listed above. For example, a company of Roma in “Bremen Musicians” appears twice in the plot, both times their appearance is connected with the performance of a song by Otamansha in the company of robbers. She is an adult, strong Roma woman who has a rather rough and harsh voice (by the way, the singer Muslim Mahomaiev voiced the heroine). The information load on the song text also leaves much to be desired, everything is mixed up: thefts, a homeless way of life, fortune-telling, and an excuse for the lack of a moral code. Some of the quotes from the song: “Why don’t you hand me a card deck to tell fortune on the king…. He has got a lot of gold coins, and I love them very much …”, and from another one: “Let there be no roof and no walls. But they don’t pay taxes to the king… We don’t want to live, eh, differently…”.

Screenshot: a shot of the scene in the cartoon “The Musicians of Bremen”

Researchers emphasise that colours play an important stage in the formation of attitudes towards a character. A dark background, dim scenes cause a feeling of anxiety, wariness and contribute to a negative attitude towards the hero. That is the dark colours are used in “Song of the Robbers” and “Song of Otamansha”. Cartoons perform an educational, pedagogical function, and condemnation of heroes who violate moral values is the norm. However, creating a negative character using false racial stereotypes is at least the same moral violation.

The cartoons “Three heroes”, “Three heroes. Horse Walk” present several appearances of Roma to the audience. In all parts, it is a camp with dances, songs, divination or theft. During the dialogue with a Roma woman named Luladzha, whose son stole Alosha Popovych’s boots, one can also trace a rough voice and a catchy Roma accent, which, by the way, is also present in other Roma characters in this scene. The characters in the cartoon appear in all their stereotypical beauty: long skirts with floral patterns, scarves and lots of gold jewellery. The little boy stole the boots from the hero’s feet, and then just skillfully put them on. Isn’t this a clear example of the spread of stereotypes about the criminal activities of Roma and their skill in theft?

Screenshot: Lulaja. A character in the cartoon “The Three Bogatyrs. The Walk of a Horse”

It was the Roma who undressed Tykhon, and in return gave him a horse (which, by the way, he did not ask for). This scene is not visually appealing; the people are drawn with a repulsive appearance. Same cannot be said for the part “Three Heroes. Horse Course”. The disadvantage is a noticeable contrast against the background of the Slavs; both in language and appearance, also in all scenes the members of the camp appear barefoot.

Researcher O. Minenko emphasises that the presence of unaesthetic features in appearance correlates with character traits and the character’s role. Since preschool children have not yet developed the ability for critical thinking, it is important that a positive character is positive in all its manifestations, traits, behaviour, as well as negative. And the result is that Roma people who steal, look unaesthetic, and speak in an unattractive voice have no chance of establishing themselves in the child’s perception as a positive hero. In the same study, it is described that children cannot always separate the virtual world from the real one and they transfer the behavioural patterns of the heroes to life.

The famous multi-episode animated series “The Simpsons” is not a purely children’s cartoon. Common Sense Media recommends it for viewing by children aged 10. In Ukraine, it is officially allowed from 16, because the series contains violence, frank scenes and taking psychotropic substances. “Treehouse of Horrors” is an episode of the 13th season of the animated series. It tells the story of a Roma fortune teller who cursed Homer. The heroine behaves maliciously, she is frankly unattractively drawn (even against the background of other Simpsons), but the worst is the use of a stereotype about fortune-telling, curses and other “mystical” things that representatives of the Roma nationality are supposedly capable of.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is nearly the only world-famous cartoon whose main character, Esmeralda, is a Roma woman, but she is a positive character. She is beautiful, kind, and brave. Here the question arises about her origin, methods of earning and the company of “thieves” who almost executed the officer. However, all these moments are slightly offset by the completely positive characteristics of the heroine. Commander Frollo is the main antagonist of the girl in the picture. He’s a real romophob, and that’s not a bad thing, considering his generally negative reputation in the cartoon. During his remarks, he expresses his desire to suppress all Roma, because he believes that their customs incite bad instincts in people. The film constantly uses the message “Roma wither away in tenements” as a reinforcement of the image of a free people.

Screenshot: shots of a scene in the cartoon “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”

For the most part, the image of Roma in animated series is typical – colourful appearance, more gold jewellery, passion for fortune-telling or theft. Even the positive moments of cultural preservation, the passion for dancing and singing are highlighted with a negative colour (to sing so that the hero doesn’t notice when they undress him). Separately, it is worth noting that the films listed above were created from 7 to 50 years ago, and of course the approach is changing. The only thing that can influence film companies is a conscious position and constant informational struggle against stereotypes.

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