International Romani Day 2018: The Importance of the Maximoff Twins’ Romani Heritage in Comics and Films

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by Joane 172 Views 0

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.