The Importance of #KeepNightwingRomani
When it was announced that WB/DC had tapped LEGO Batman director Chris McKay to direct a live action Nightwing film set in the DCEU the internet immediately caught fire with many beginning to fancast. Many people fancast the likes of Matt Bomer, Zac Effron, Taylor Lautner, Ian Somerholder, and even Steven Yeun. The obvious problem with this is that the majority of the actors that people chose to cast as Nightwing were white, but another problem is that people of color aren’t interchangeable. For the better part of 15 years Nightwing has canonically been recognized as Romani. This was established Pre New 52, New 52, and during Rebirth. Nightwing was initially established as Romani back in the early 2000’s during Devin Grayson’s run on the character. In recent years DC has had writers reestablish and commit to the concept that Nightwing is of Romani descent, while the percentage of Roma in his blood has varied from time to time the fact still remains that he is of Roma descent and therefore a POC. I understand that for the majority of Dick Grayson’s existence he was presented as a white character, but that has changed. DC allowed the representation to be added and they have allowed it to persist for the better part of a decade, so why take it away? The status quo of Nightwing has been forever changed and to now take that way seems pointless and childish. Making Nightwing Romani and keeping Nightwing Romani harms no one but it does offer a little Roma child the opportunity to see themselves in a superhero where before the media only gave them stereotypes.
For those who don’t know the Roma or Romani are an ethnic group who originate from the Northern regions of India. The Roma are a nomadic group who can mostly be found in Europe and the Americas. When mentioning Nightwing’s Romani heritage many comic book fans have confused Romani with Romanian which has caused them to further confuse his POC status. To clarify as I stated before the Romani are a nomadic ethnic group originating in the Northern Regions of India and Romanians are from Romania. People also cite characters like Nightwing, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch’s skin tone for why they are white, but many of these people don’t understand that just like any other race of people the Roma’s skin tones can vary depending on where they have settled. You can get white passing Roma people just as you can get dark-skinned Roma people.
For centuries the Roma have faced racial discrimination and hatred they’ve been subjected to horrible and racist stereotypes of being thieves, promiscuous, unstable, violent, and murderers. Again these stereotypes are horribly racist and problematic. The Romani or Roma are generally commonly referred to as Gy*psies which is actually a racial slur and should not under any circumstance be used. The term is not some cute word to be used to describe a free spirit or someone with an earthy hippy personality it is a racial slur and should be treated with the same disdain and disgust as others. When the CW and DCTV decided to introduce the DC Comics character Cynthia Reynolds onto The Flash many people found out that her alias is Gy*sy and many of us called for her name to be changed. The damage had been done though by the time many of us had even found out she’d be on the show. Many of us also would have liked for a Roma actress to have been chosen for the part and for her name to be changed to something that showed respect and understanding of the Roma culture rather than continuing to refer to her as a racial slur. This is just one of many examples of the disrespect that the Roma people have faced in the media.
Even Marvel and Fox are guilty of white washing Roma characters in Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. When Marvel announced that the characters would be in their film Age of Ultron once again many hoped that they would find Roma actors and not white wash, but where disappointed when actress Elizabeth Olsen and actor Aaron Taylor Johnson were cast. Fox didn’t do any better when they cast American Horror Story actor Evan Peters to portray Quicksilver in their X-Men film Days of Future Past. As I’ve stated before Romani characters have a history of being white washed and having their heritage erased or glossed over all the more reason for us to fight to ensure that director Chris McKay is aware of Dick’s heritage and that he not only casts a Romani actor, but that he also recognizes it in the characterization that we get on-screen.
There was a time quite recently where even I erased Nightwing’s Romani heritage due to a lack of knowledge and understanding on the subject. However after researching and being taught why I was wrong I quickly learned better. My mother has a saying “When you learn better you do better” and that is honestly all any of us can do. It is all of our duty to continue learning and to help fight for representation for not just ourselves but for other marginalized and disregarded people.
A common argument that I have seen people use in regard to the white washing and erasure of Romani characters is that there aren’t many American Roma or Roma actors and actresses in general so it would be near impossible to find one. Let me tell you that this line of logic is extremely problematic and lazy because it literally implies that these actors do not exist and it places the fault on the Roma community rather than placing the blame on Hollywood. Just as with any other actor if Hollywood wants to find them they will, put out a casting call and one that isn’t asking for a Roma actor to fill a stereotypical or offensive role and you will discover that more Roma actors and actresses exist than you thought. It is about creating and giving the same opportunities to actors of color that are constantly given to white actors. This is never stated when it comes to white actors because Hollywood will literally seek out white actors and give roles to actors who have never had a large part before. Hollywood finds and shapes unknown actors all the time bringing them up from obscurity into the lime light its time that actors of color get the same opportunity. I’ve seen many on the internet since the news dropped make statements like “Isn’t it more important to find a good actor?” or “Who cares if they make him Romani as long as the actor and characterization is good”and to those people I say I care and it does matter. It’s easy to say it doesn’t matter or who cares or to sweep his heritage under the rug when you are constantly represented. Its easy to toss aside all of the opportunity it presents to explore and educate on Roma culture when every time you turn on the tv you see yourself, your culture, and people who look like you. Its easy to forget that not everyone has that opportunity when you don’t have to fight for what you have or to maintain what you have.
While Devin Grayson’s establishing of Nightwing as Romani was extremely problematic in that she used racial slurs and stereotypes that doesn’t mean that others haven’t worked to change what she did. Other writers have mentioned Dick’s heritage and tried to tie him closely to the Roma culture without using stereotypes, racial slurs, or even pretending that he has always known about his family’s heritage. Keeping Nightwing Romani on film presents the opportunity to fix the mistakes of the past and move forward with the representation of the Roma community in a non stereotypical fashion. I am a firm believer that everyone deserves positive representation and it would be amazing to see a Romani actor playing a positive role as a superhero on-screen. Keeping Nightwing Romani is important because everyone deserves and needs to see themselves represented, because it is far more important to self-esteem and understanding our places in the world than many will ever understand. In a Hollywood climate where white washing has become the norm I urge DC, Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder, Ben Affleck, and Chris McKay to stand up and commit to not just finding a Romani actor for Nightwing, but also to adding positive and inclusive diversity into all of the DCEU films. So we here at Geeks of Color urge you to join us in the hashtag #KeepNightwingRomani