“I’m sickened….”

The reviews of National Geographic’s American Gypsies are starting to arrive here at Society Matters (via email):

Ian Hancock is the Director of The Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin; the Nowlin Regents Professor of Liberal Arts; a board member of the Roma Diplomatic Corps, European Union, Brussels; the Main Representative, United Nations Præsidium of the International Romani Union; North American Representative Member, International Roma Parliament, Vienna. He is also the author of We Are The Romani People. Dr. Hancock’s complete CV is here.

This is the trailer for American Gypsies:

This is the letter of protest that Dr. Hancock tried to submit to the National Geographic Board of Trustees:

 [gview file=”http://societymatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Hancock_Yoors_Roma_letter_to_National_Geographic.pdf”]

This is John Fahey, NGS CEO & Chairman of National Geographic’s Board of Trustees:

John Fahey National Geographic

This is David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel:

This is Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation is the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel:


  • Bill The Thumb

    Ian, Frankly, you seem to be a bit of a blowhard and a tool. I would suggest you a) Relax. You will live longer.

    And b) Reserve judgment until you have seen the show. You can’t judge a show by a trailer. And I don;t know much about Hollywood, but it seems to me the producers of this show are pretty darn reputable, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.

    • I must say, “Bill The Thumb, there’s nothing quite as blowhardy and tool-like than calling someone a blowhard & a tool while hiding behind an anonymous nickname. It’s also rude. 

      You may or may not be able to judge a show by its trailer, but you can certainly judge the producers: this is the snapshot they have decided to share with the world to convince us to watch the show. The trailer is the bait, the lure. And as Dr. Hancock says, it’s pretty depressing stuff. 

    • Ciuin Ferrin

      Bill the Thumb, I would have to question your education at this point. You judged Dr. Hancock without understanding what he knows and proved yourself when you resorted to name calling. The reason why he and other Romanies were offended is because we recognize that our culture, something you know nothing about, is being misrepresented and exploited by Nat Geo. It is obvious in the trailer. We’ve now seen the show. Dr. Hancock is correct.
      As for Ralph “The Karate Kid” Maccio being a reputable producer of a show about a culture he knows nothing about, I again question your logical thought. One would think someone with his background would be slightly more sensative to the complex issues other cultures face. It seems not. We have listened to Ralph explain how he knows us because he knows the Mafia. He and Nat Geo are using a dysfunctional family (presonal friends of Maccio’s) to gain ratings. Nat Geo has tarnished its good name by stooping to such levels. Both are now less than reputable.
      From their own website, Nat Geo claims the high ground: 
      “Since 1888, National Geographic has supported exploration and discovery, bringing gems like Machu Picchu, undersea wonders, and new species to light.
      Inspiring people to care about the planet—and every living creature on it—is our mission. We promote and fund natural and cultural conservation projects.
      National Geographic supports groundbreaking scientific fieldwork and critical expeditions through grant programs and public projects.”
      How does a Facebook page designed to mock the Romani kris by “take your friends to Gypsy Court” fit the above mandate?
      ( facebook.com/natgeotv/app_141936129275218 )
      For the sake of ratings, Nat Geo would rather join the ranks of tripe reality TV than to do what it should: educate the masses about what is really going on in Romani reality. In reality our children are kept out of the public school system in the Czech Republic. The CR lost its case in the Court of Human Rights some five years ago, but they refuse to incorporate Romani children in to the system. How can the cycle of poverty be broken without an education? (D.H. and Others v Czech Republic).Since 1980, 90,000 Romani women were sterilized in the Czech Republic (Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights for the Council of Europe). While the CR has apologized, it refuses to make reparations to the women in question. Neo-nazis are burning Romani homes in the CR and getting away with murder(Prague Daily paper). What is frightening? The Czech Republic is responsible for writing human rights policy for the UN! Slovakia also has sterilized Romani women and allowed the neo-nazis to attack and murder Romanies. The list goes on and on, but I think even you, Bill the thumb, can see the pattern.
      Our reality is one of discrimination. Our reality is one of poverty. Our reality is one of fear. And Nat Geo is thriving on it.
      I think that makes Nat Geo and you, Bill,  the tools.
      Ciuin Ferrin
      Educational Director, O Porrajmos Educational Society

      • Amen, Ciuin Ferrin.

        Would it be okay with you if I published  your comment as a separate post here at Society Matters? I know the people at National Geographic who read this site need to hear what you have to say.

        Thanks for considering this….


        • ciuin ferrin

          Certainly. Please see my email response as well.


      • Rromni Chachi

        Ian Hancock is exploiting his trumped up ancestry claims to speak on behalf of Rromani people as if he has any right to.. oh and also to line his own pockets.
        He is NO better than the people on this show.

        Watch whose phony butt you kiss, Ciuin.

        Karufe mel mahrime. Ekh ladzhavo sa si.
        Oj, thaj numaj ekh gadji parni san.

  • Frank

    Why don’t you watch it first! The first episode can be downloaded on iTunes for free this week.


    • Watched it! And Dr. Hancock was 100% correct about everything he said! It is a horrible representation of the Romani culture as a whole.

      • If you want a sense of how this TV series is affecting the public’s perception of the Roma, you should look at Twitter & search on “American Gypsies.” What some people say there is absolutely chilling.

        (Thanks for your comment… and for stopping by, Shelly.)

  • I think Ian is completely right. 

    • You & many others, Cat. 
      Thanks for stopping by… and for your comment. 

  • Glenda Bailey-Mershon

    I have sent this list to National Geographic to indicate what they could have done:

    August 9, 2012

    Dear National Geographic,

    So you think you know Gypsies? Or
    rather, you think Ralph Macchio does?

    What I see when I watch
    “American Gypsies” is another scripted reality show that focuses
    on fights and conflicts to raise ratings. Sure, you put brief articles
    about Romani history and culture on your web page for the hardiest
    explorers to find. You even quoted Dr. Ian Hancock, one of our own
    scholars. But then you overshadowed that more factual—but by no means
    complete—information with a big brazen exhortation to “Solve your dispute
    in Gypsy Court” by taking “your case to your Facebook peers.” Now, there are
    some wise elders for you.

    This is exploitation! All the more
    so because you bypassed scores of accomplished, serious Roma filmmakers
    for the likes of the “Karate Kid.” And perhaps the most
    hateful thing about all this is how, although you mention that the Johns
    are one American Gypsy family, your articles and much of your
    advertising implies that viewers will know the Gypsy people once they
    have seen Ralph’s outsider vision of them. And what does Ralph do? Well,
    in interview after interview last week, he compared us to the Mafia!

    So, let’s add this up: You know,
    because you consulted experts like Dr. Hancock, that most Gypsies are not
    fortunetellers or any other one profession, or criminals, or any of the
    stereotypes that have dogged our people and led to our persecution
    over centuries; still, when push comes to shove, you represent us with a
    commercialized fortune-telling family and compare us to the criminal Mafia.
    Furthermore, if you and Ralph used the word “secretive” to refer
    to us once, you used it a thousand times. Is that secretive, like “Orientals”
    are “inscrutable”? Or perhaps you’d like to bring back Birth
    of a Nation so we can see the Ku Klux Klan as heroes?

    Do you really not see the racism
    in all this? Well, I’d like to open your eyes. I challenge you, National
    Geographic, to air films by Romani filmmakers who show the diversity of
    our culture.

    Enclosed is a list of filmmakers who have a much greater clue
    than Mr. Macchio to who we are.

    National Geographic, I challenge
    you. If you really want to know Gypsies, redeem your reputation as worthy
    explorers and scholars by airing work made within our community. Let
    our people truly speak for ourselves.

    Glenda Bailey-Mershon

    Board Member, Romani Zor

    An Annotated List of Films about the Romani

    Films by Romani filmmakers:

    Latcho Drom (Tony Gatlif,
    Director) is a hymn to the music of Sinti and Roma from Rajasthan to Andalusia,
    via Egypt, Romania, Hungary, and France. Gatlif’s films are numerous and many
    have won awards: Corre Gitano, on the Sinti
    and Roma from Grenada and Seville; Les
    Princes, on the Sinti and Roma who live in Paris’ suburbs; Gadjo Dilo recounts the story of the arrival of
    a young Gadjo (non-Rom) in a Roma village in Romania; and Vengo (2000) describes the rivalry between
    two Andalucian families involved in flamenco dance. Swing (2002) was filmed in eastern France, and describes the
    journey of Max, a young boy who wants to learn Django Reinhardt’s guitar

    Migration (Milutin Jovanovic, Director) recounts the efforts of a young Roma boy
    to document his home in a Romani settlement that was moved by the Belgrade City
    Assembly; a rough story about Gagi, his ambitions, the Roma and their problems,
    intertwined with several comic situations.

    Mundi Romani––the
    World through Roma Eyes (Katalin Barsony, Director, the UNESCO award winner series; more than 40 episodes), has won
    many awards for telling the stories of various Romani groups around the world.

    Roma Memento. Zukunft Ungewiss? / Roma Memento.
    Uncertain Future? (Marika Schmiedt, Writer, Director) Beginning
    with pictures of the current living conditions of Roma in Belgrade, the film
    takes us from the grim contemporary situation to a forewarning past. In a
    conversation between the filmmaker and her mother, she speaks about her
    experiences of exclusion and her parentless childhood. Her mother was murdered
    in a concentration camp and she knew nothing about her own origin; neither did
    she know or understand the reasons behind the prejudices and continuous
    experiences of exclusion she encountered. The mother confides to her daughter
    how she has been haunted by these long-term experiences of discrimination,
    along with the current political situation for Roma in Europe, throughout her
    whole life. Also from Schmeidt: Vermachtnis
    (Legacy), 2010-2011(Vienna), a
    portrait of Roma Holocaust survivor and artist Ceija Stojka and her offspring.

    Searching for the 4th Nail
    (George Eli, Writer and Director)
    turns a camera on the secret life of Romani culture when the writer’s two sons ask,
    “What does it mean to be a Gypsy?” From the Holocaust Museum to Hollywood, from
    ancient India to Ellis Island, they search for an answer.

    Romani Kris: Court of Common
    Consent (Cristinela Ionescu, Writer, Director, and
    Producer) describes the results of Romanian authorities turning to
    Romani judges as mediators in conflicts and as aides in law enforcement,
    following the Roma’s homegrown justice system, led by elected Romani judges,
    typically educated elders who are respected in their community and have good
    relations with the non-Roma. These unique Roma courts represent a symbol of
    peace and stability in the family and community for Romani people all over
    world, and may function as a model of a just and egalitarian way of resolving
    differences and contributing to the creation of a truly functioning
    multicultural coexistence.

    Films by Non-Roma Filmmakers with good access to Romani

    People Uncounted (Aaron Yaager, Director; Tom Rasky, Producer; music by Robi Botos, an
    Hungarian-born Roma pianist) was filmed in 11
    countries and features dozens of Roma—including Holocaust survivors,
    historians, activists and musicians—bringing Romani history to life through the
    interplay of their poetry, music, and compelling first-hand accounts, placing
    the Romani story within the larger context of the world’s legacy of racism and

    Bold as Love: My
    Time with the Kalderash Gypsies of California. (Rana Halprin, Director; forthcoming) A
    record of the Kalderash community in California.

    Carpati:50 Miles,
    50 Years (Yale Strom, Director) Also, Man
    From Munkacs. Both films recount relationships between Jews and Roma.

    Caravan, (Jasmine Delal, Producer) A dazzling display of the musical world of
    the Roma, juxtaposed to the real world they live in. This feature documentary
    celebrates the luscious music of top international Gypsy performers and
    interweaves stirring real life tales of their home life and social background.
    Shot by documentary icon Albert Maysles. The film takes place on location in
    Spain, Macedonia, Romania and India, as well as in Europe and in the USA during
    the Gypsy Caravan concert tour created by World Music
    Institute. Also from Delal, American
    Gypsy, which follows a Romani leader and his family through a series of

    Just the
    (Bence Fliegauf, Writer and Director) recounts one day in the life of a Roma
    family during the serial murders that took place during 2008 and 2009 in

    Opre Roma, (Tony Papa, Director; Gillian Darling Kovanic,
    Producer) celebrates the vibrant culture and tenacious struggle of the Canadian
    Gypsy and introduces a new generation of Roma who claim their Gypsy roots with
    pride, while fighting the myths that caused their parents to live in fear.

    School (Mona Nicoara, and Miruna Coca-Cozma, Directors) tells the story of
    three Roma children segregated in Romanian schools who are part of a pioneer initiative to desegregate the local
    schools in a small Transylvanian town. The film asks the question, if you’re not
    given a chance in first grade, what’s the likelihood that, as an adult, you are
    going to access a better life than your parents?

    Romano Drom
(Kristyna Balaban, Director) takes us into
    the lives of four Roma youth living in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

    Suspino––A Cry For Roma (Gillian Darling Kovanic, Director) takes an
    unflinching look at the persecution that continues to plague Europe’s largest
    and most vilified minority. The film focuses on Romania, where Europe’s largest
    concentration of Roma are considered “public enemies,” and Italy, where the
    Roma are classified as nomads and relegated to living in camps, denied basic
    human rights available to refugees and foreign residents.

    The Gypsies
    of Svinia, (Directed by John Paskievich; produced
    by Joe MacDonald, 1998) takes an
    unprecedented look into the everyday lives of Roma who have been relegated to
    the farthest, most grotesque margins of society during Eastern Europe’s painful
    transition from communism to democracy.

    ––Compiled by Glenda Bailey-Mershon for Rromani Zor.

    • Glenda – Thanks for your note, and for contacting National Geographic. They need to hear what you have to say, but I’m not certain they’re listening — not yet, anyway.

      If you get any response, please let me know. I’d be happy to post it here.

      Thanks for the great work you, Ian, and other at Rromani Zor are doing. And please keep in touch…


    • Guest


      Good luck in getting a positive response. But don’t be surprised if nothing happens (unfortunately). John Fahey and David Lyle don’t seem to have a problem ruining the good NGS name for money.

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