Superheroes, in all forms of media, have made leaps and bounds in the diversity department in recent years. Comics, and the movies and television shows they create, are normally very aware of underrepresented voices. Unless, of course, that minority voice is Romani. There are only a few examples of Romani characters in comics: Nightwing, Doctor Doom, and Meggan Puceanu. Even then, writers rarely showcase these characters’ Romani roots, and when they do, stereotyping is common. However, a few Romani comic characters are represented well. One of the best and most well-known examples is the Maximoff twins Wanda and Pietro (aka the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver). Before jumping into their past, let’s take a look at the Romani people in general.

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AVENGERS ORIGINS: THE SCARLET WITCH AND QUICKSILVER / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Who are the Romani?

Because the Romani population in the United States is comparatively small, many Americans don’t have a full understanding of who these people are. The Romani originally came to Europe from India around 1,000 years ago. A typically nomadic people, the Romani continue to migrate to parts of the world, including the United States and Brazil. Their society is a mixture of many different cultures, including elements from traditional Hinduism and Eastern European influences.

Over the years, the Romani have suffered mass persecution in the forms of slavery, ethnic cleansing, and sterilization. During the Holocaust, Hitler considered the dark-skinned Romani a threat to his racist plans and sentenced them to death. In recent times, some European governments have tried to curb the birthrate by sterilizing Romani women in the hopes of lowering the poverty rate.

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SCARLET WITCH #1 / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Like so many marginalized minorities, the Romani are not only victims of physical persecution, they’re also constantly inundated with stereotypes. According to stereotypes, the Romani are poor and crime-ridden. Unfortunately, many forms of media help prolong this twisted belief. Other forms of media simply ignore the Romani all together and act like they don’t exist. Comics and films frequently find themselves in the second camp.

If you want to learn a little more about the Romani, check out this website.

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How do the Comic Maximoffs Connect to the Romani?

A lot of comic readers know that Pietro and Wanda Maximoff are Romani, but they don’t know how. Like so many comic characters, the Maximoff twins’ past is extremely complicated and continues to be changed and retconned. For a long time, people believed that the High Evolutionary stole the twins from their mother, Magda Lehnsherr (the Romani wife of Magneto), and experimented on them.

After the High Evolutionary finished his tests, he gave Pietro and Wanda to a Romani couple who had lost their own children: Django and Marya Maximoff. Around the time Wanda and Pietro began showing their powers, some villagers caught the Maximoffs trying to steal food and set their wagon on fire, killing them. If you want to read Wanda and Pietro’s complete origin story, check out AVENGERS ORIGINS: THE SCARLET WITCH AND QUICKSILVER by writer Sean McKeever and artist Mirco Pierfederici.

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SCARLET WITCH #8 / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Thanks to Wanda’s recent solo series, THE SCARLET WITCH, we have a slightly different origin story for the Maximoff twins. Instead of Magda giving birth to the twins, it was a woman named Natalya Maximoff — the sister of Django Maximoff. Natalya was the first “Scarlet Witch” and had similar magical abilities as Wanda. The retelling of the twins’ origin story doesn’t change too many things. However, it does emphasize Wanda’s connection to Romani culture and traditions.

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Accurate Representation or Stereotyping?

Marvel comics haven’t always been perfect when representing Wanda and Pietro as Romani characters, but they’ve tried, which is more than a lot of comic publishers can say. The twins are sometimes still victims of stereotypes, but I think most writers are aware of their heritage and want to represent them accurately. After many years, writers are still discussing Wanda and Pietro’s Romani roots, which is pretty impressive considering they could’ve erased that a long time ago.

My only issue with the comic Maximoffs is their physical looks. Colorists always make their skin tones alabaster white…but if you’ve ever seen a picture of the Romani people, you’d know that’s completely inaccurate. Most of the Romani have dark hair and a medium complexion. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Wanda drawn this way and I can safely say Pietro has never been drawn this way. I understand their father was once thought to be Magneto, so Pietro’s white hair makes sense. But their skin shouldn’t be so light. It doesn’t make sense and it actively erases the physical manifestation of their Romani heritage.

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AVENGERS: CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #4 / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

How do the MCU Maximoffs connect to the Romani?

To answer the question above, they don’t. Joss Whedon erases Wanda and Pietro’s Romani heritage in their debut film, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. They still come from an Eastern European country (the fictitious “Sokovia”) but they don’t have Romani roots. Whedon completely changes their backstories, thus making them unrecognizable when compared to the comics. While the actors, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson, do a good job, they aren’t Romani or even Eastern European. It almost seems like the creators of the film wanted film Wanda and Pietro to be different than their comic book counterparts.

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What the writers and producers of AGE OF ULTRON completely ignored is the fact that comic Wanda and Pietro offer a needed perspective in fiction. The Romani are rarely represented in any form of media so it would’ve been a big deal to have Romani characters on the big screen. A people who are usually trampled upon by society would have had a voice.

Maximoff
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON / Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The Future of the Maximoff Twins

There isn’t a whole lot the MCU can do to rectify what they did to Wanda and Pietro’s characters. If they went back and attempted to change the characters’ backgrounds, it would feel contrived and fake. However, in the future, directors need to learn from Whedon’s mistake and encourage the inclusion of Romani characters. Comics have learned how to create a realistic representation of Romani culture so I know films can too.

For the Maximoff twins, I’d like to see an even stronger appreciation for their Romani heritage in the comics. Thanks to Wanda’s solo series in 2016, the Scarlet Witch’s Romani roots are strong. But her twin brother Pietro isn’t so lucky. Writers need to explore Pietro’s personal origin story and his relationship with his newly-discovered past. Hopefully, by the time I’m writing an article about International Romani Day 2019, things will be looking a little brighter for our favorite Romani twins.

2 Comments

  1. Andre

    October 12, 2018 at 2:02 am

    Wow, I appreciate your sentiment but boy did you mess this up. First, the Romani are not nearly as homogenous as you make it out to be, in fact many of the people you regard as one people would vehemently disagree, for good reason as they represent cultures that centuries ago, in the early modern age and sometimes late middle ages. Furthermore the only outside influences you mentioned are Hinduism and Eastern European, while also portraying them as a homogenous block. But the influences vary depending on where they life and their Hinduistic influences … they were cut off from India almost a millenia ago, and most are Christian or muslim so I would not attribute much of their culture to Hinduism. Regarding cultural influences: Getanoes are way more influenced by Spanish culture than Sinti could ever be, they are more influenced by German culture, while Lovara, Ursitory and Kalderash are heavily influenced by the Romanian culture. Which also brings me to the other stereotype you mentioned: Romani are not typically nomadic. To take my examples: Gitanoes and Sinti haven’t been nomadic for a long time and especially Sinti were never fully nomadic to begin with or else their language would not show such heavy German influence. The latter three are considered nomadic now, but not only are most of them not, they were never nomadic during most of their history as they had been slaves in Romania for centuries, in fact, their names are based on the Romanian language. And when it comes to the problem of persecution and discrimination you throw everything into one pot with out any nuance, again. Also Hitler barely gave a shit about “gypsies”, to him they were simply one of many that have to go away for his world to exist. Gypsies, like Jews, where parasitic races in the Nazi ideology but that part owes most of it’s elements to people like Rosenberg, Himmler, Bormann and Ritter, but not Hitler. Despite what pop-culture tells you, he was not the only one making the decisions back then. Furthermore stating that “some European governments” in recent times tried to sterilize Romani women is false. Unless you have other information, that only happened in the last 40 years in the Czech Republic, nowhere else. So in my mind your article is guilty of the same things you complain about: stereotyping. Ironically, despite linking to a site that does it better than you, you did not seem to follow said site’s information. But to get on with your article: People didn’t just belief that these two were Magneto’s children, it was fact. Marvel had Quicksilver drawn with Magneto’s younger face and downright had DNA tests state that they are his biological children, so that retcon made no sense. Also their origin story that you promoted here was full of plotholes and stereotypes as well. In fact with the retcon, nothing changed. Wanda’s “real mother” looks in the flashbacks just as much as a stereotype as Wanda in her past “Romani” costume and she is also a witch, another stereotype. And I really question how does this emphasize Wanda’s connection to Romani culture and traditions. For all we know her biological father could be non-Romani and so nothing would change in that regard to before and they were still raised by the same couple. We do not even get any new or correct information. And saying Marvel tried in the past to do it right, is a flat out lie or mistake in my opinion as they did almost nothing right. In fact they made even more mistakes than you did here and I don’t belief you want an actual correct representation, because Pietro and Wanda are clearly gypsies and not Romani. You demand for darkening their skin shows that as dependent on the region Eastern Roma can be very light-skinned and so that is not unrealistic. You should have demanded that the comics explore that angle as such a look would have given them opportunities darker Roma would not have, but just like the comics you ignored that in order to be able to rant about persecution. Like the comics you don’t want them as actual Romani people, you just want victims. Your rant about the Age of Ultron movie shows that perfectly. Did it ever occur to you that even if they are Romani, they might not know about Hydra’s past or may not care? That it is a “for the greater good” thing for them? That maybe their life was so bad in the past that this was preferable? Considering that Sokovia is between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which would make it a Central European country, and one of the worst Roma slums is (or was, I don’t know whether it has been destroyed yet) is in Slovakia, these two could have had a pretty shitty life and so everything could have looked like an improvement to them. And unless you are talking about comics from other companies, I can guarantee you that Marvel has not learned to have a realistic representation of Romani culture. Even with its newer stuff: I remember an article claiming the newer comics explore Quicksilver’s Romani roots but if you ask me it is, like your article, just ranting and stereotypes. The whole 500 years of slavery would make sense if he were from Romania, but he is not. The caravan shown is completely anachronistic and does not fit the region Wundagore is supposed to be in, and the clothes… not as bad as in prior incarnations but still bad. Eastern European Roma do not dress like that anymore so at the best the mother is pretty anachronistic and as for Wanda, that is made up. She is far too young to wear a head scarf like that, unless you want to imply she is married already. Nothing really changed and your article will not change anything either.

    Reply

    • Peyton Hinckle

      October 12, 2018 at 9:02 am

      It is always so great to see people with as much enthusiasm, dedication, and free time as you! Thank you for your comment!

      Reply

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