How Avengers Age of Ultron Failed the Rom
How Avengers Age of Ultron Failed the Rom,
And How Marvel Studios Can Make it Right.
Written by Patrick Wiley, October 2, 2015
After enjoying a successful Summer at the box office, Avengers: Age of Ultron will be making its DVD and Blue Ray debut. While its financial success, over 1.1 billion earned worldwide, is impossible to deny, its critical status is debatable. With mixed reviews online some are left to question if the film let the fans down. RMI, and its small circle of supporters however is more concerned with the indisputable fact that the film let the Romani people down.
If Marvel Studios had changed the ethnicity of Falcon or Luke Cage, two characters who have been African Americans since their creation, and serve, as icons to the Black community there would be mass outrage. Yet somehow a whitewashing, no less egregious went virtually unnoticed in Age of Ultron. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, known by their aliases as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver appear in the comics as twins of Romani descent. In the comics they grew up in a Roma camp and the Romani culture is an indispensible part of their identity. Before the film’s release The Wire picked up on the fact that actors Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson, did not look the least bit Romani. Their blond hair and blue eyes lead some to speculate that the characters would be stripped of their Roma identities in favor of being white Europeans. In the end both appeared on screen with their hair dyed but this was to match the physical look of their comic book characters, not to uphold their heritage.
In the course of the film not a single reference is made to suggest that the twin superheroes are Romani. Not a word of Romanes is spoken between them. There is no mention of any Romani background when the Avengers are briefed on their dossiers. These simple references would have incurred no additional cost to the production. They would not have detracted from the story or characters in any way. So that leaves us to wonder why did Marvel Studios not have the foresight to include such a detail?
Perhaps there was a concern that two Romani characters would negatively impact European sales. There’s no denying increasing anti-Roma prejudice throughout Europe. However it’s doubtful that the influence of racist mentalities has gotten so strong as to threaten a tent pole blockbuster film merely by referencing two characters as being part of an ethnic minority.
It could be that the decision stemmed from the contested nature of the rights to the characters. Currently Marvel and Fox both hold shared cinematic rights to the characters of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Fox however has exclusive rights to all story elements that connect them to the X-Men franchise, namely their powers being the result of genetic mutation and their backstory as the children of the infamous Magneto. It would be preposterous to suggest that 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the entire Romani culture. However once Marvel was obligated to eliminate one part of the Maximoffs’ backstory it’s easy to see how other elements would be left out as well. Still the question remains why did they choose to discard their Roma identity?
One likely explanation is ignorance. In spite of being Europe’s largest minority the Romani culture is given very little coverage in the media or academia. In fiction it’s all too common for the term “Gypsy” to bandied about as carelessly as “wizard”. It’s seen as a magical label, not a living breathing culture that is currently in crisis. Perhaps to Marvel changing the Maximoff twin’s ethnic background seemed no more offensive then changing the source of their superpowers from genetic mutation to illegal experiments.
Another possibility is they were not aware of the impact of their decision. In a recent Economist article “No Role Models” was cited, by Roma sources, as the number one reason impoverished Eastern European Roma do not value education. One cannot under estimate the power a fictional character has to inspire a generation of young people. Children are drawn to superheroes; in many ways they embody a child’s ultimate role model. Imagine the impact if Wanda and Pietro had exchanged a few words of Romanes, or if the Avengers had acknowledged them as Romani. Imagine the reaction of a Romani child upon realizing at that moment that these two heroes, these two Avengers are Rom like them. That is the sort of moment that can change a person’s life.
The last possible explanation is that Marvel Studios simply didn’t care. Cynicism might lead us to believe that the executives at Marvel had no qualms about depriving that Romani child of a much-needed role model. Feeling secure in their belief that no backlash would be forthcoming the backstory was changed on a whim.
There’s no way to be sure if it was a callous disregard for the Romani people or a simple lack of perspective that lead to the whitewashing of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Whatever the case, there is little hope that this mistake will be corrected without a strong push from the Romani culture and non-Roma sympathizers. Indeed within Marvel’s crowded slate of upcoming films there are many opportunities to correct this glaring omission and establish Wanda and Pietro as Romani heroes. There is still a chance for Marvel to make thinks right.
(Warning Spoilers and Ending Details Bellow)
During the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Quicksilver is killed while rescuing civilians from the film’s titular villain. Scarlet Witch however lives on and ultimately becomes one of the Avengers. She is now slated to appear in Captain America: Civil War, one of the many upcoming Marvel titles. The studio has plans stretching all the way to 2019 including Avengers: Infinity War, parts I and II. It’s clear from Age of Ultron that the death of Pietro was a major character moment for Wanda and it will no doubt be referenced in upcoming films. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce their Romani heritage for funerals and the veneration of deceased loved ones is one of the most integral parts of the Romani belief structure. Again a simple reference would be enough to get the point across. A few words of Romanes spoken over Pietro’s grave, a chakra wheel on his tombstone. Or perhaps we could even hope for a brief scene at Pietro’s Pomana (a traditional Romani wake). These details could be worked into existing scenes so as to incur no extra cost for Marvel Studios and would have a profound effect on the Romani culture, inspiring pride, hope and the belief that they too can be heroes.
It is for this reason that the Romani Media Initiative is launching its first official petition demanding that Marvel Studios acknowledge Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s Romani heritage in one of their upcoming projects. Please visit at Change.org: https://www.change.org/p/kevin-fiege-louis-d-esposito-we-demand-marvel-acknowledge-scarlet-witch-and-quicksilver-s-romani-heritage?recruiter=15645994&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink
(This article originally appeared at http://www.romanimediainitiative.org/apps/blog/)
Patrick Wiley is the lead writer for the Romani Media Initiative and a professional researcher and fact checker. He holds a degree in Film and Video Production from Drexel University with a minor in screenwriting. Having worked with George Eli for over three years he has a detailed knowledge of the Romani culture and its plight in Europe.