Gypsy and Traveller campaigners are reacting with fury to the launch of Ricky Gervais’s new music video and film trailer ‘Gypsy Lady’ intended to promote his new film ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’.
Reactions are mixed and the controversial video is polarising opinions, but veteran Romany Gypsy and Pavee (Irish Traveller) women campaigners are already threatening to picket the opening night of the film.
Betty Blue Smith Packman-Billington of the Dorset based media campaign group DIACT, said that the video should be banned.
“I cannot believe what I have just watched, this film is disgusting it is not only degrading to all women it is racist against an ethnic minority who value their high morals regarding casual sexual encounters,” she said.
“As a woman and a Romany Gypsy woman I personally am outraged. This should be banned and not screened in public cinemas.”
Rose McCarthy from Munya Barnet, a Local Gypsy and Traveller campaign charity asked; “Is this meant to be funny?”
Campaigners have also contacted The Travellers’ Times claiming that Gervais has blocked them from his Twitter feed and was “rude” to a Pavee campaigner criticising the video.
Josie O’Driscoll, Pavee Chair of Herts Gypsy and Traveller Empowerment, said that Gervais had been “called out” on his Twitter feed.
“He (Ricky Gervais) has gone as far as calling someone a stupid idiot for taking offence from a fictional character,” she claimed.
“He wrote it, played it, and will see his bank balance rise from it, but refuses to take responsibility for it. I'm concerned and disappointed more Gypsy, Roma and Travellers and those who represent us have not called him out on this,” she said.
The pop video shows Ricky Gervais, comedian and star of the hit BBC TV series ‘The Office’, trying to woo a ‘Lady Gypsy’. The ‘Lady Gypsy’ are dressed in a stereotypical ‘romantic’ dress of Romany Gypsies and Gervais is wearing a tight white grubby sleeveless T-shirt and a red neckerchief. The video has been covered extensively in the press.
In the video, Gervais – playing a guitar – serenades the ‘Lady Gypsy’ with the following line: “She was a Traveller, but she was pretty and clean”.
Gervais follows this with: “She laid me down in a bed of heather. She said, please be careful, this is what I sell. I said, what – you are a hooker?”
Gervais then sings that the ‘Lady Gypsy’ replies, “the sex is free but the heather is a pound.”
Yet some Gypsies and Travellers are arguing that the video is a parody – and is in fact a “dig” at the romantic stereotype of the Romany Gypsy and not at Gypsies themselves. They argue that the audience is invited to laugh at the “racism” and at the David Brent character’s ignorance.
The Traveller campaigner, who did not want to be named, said: “Gervais is clearly taking the mickey, quite perceptively I think, of the absurd disconnect between the hatred of Travellers and the romanticisation and sexualisation of the Gypsy lifestyle and Gypsy women. ‘She was a Traveller, but she was clean’, he says with absurd surprise”.
He added that although he agreed that some people would watch the video and “laugh at Travellers”, he did not think that was the intention.
“I don't think this video is in the same vein as generalising, didactic shows like Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, or hateful productions like Rod Liddles journalism,” he said.
Other Gypsy and Traveller campaigners recognised that the video was an attempt at parody, but thought that the parody had failed.
Dr Hazel Marsh, a Romany academic at the University of East Anglia and writer for The Traveller’s Times on Romany ethnicity, said the video had made her “cringe”.
“It is a very obvious jokey take on the usual stereotypes, and of course Gervais mocks himself a lot too,” she said.
“But it does raise questions about who’s ‘entitled’ to mock who,” she added.
“I do think there’s an argument for saying that satire & mockery are fine between ‘equals’, but less so when it comes to dominant groups mocking marginalised & oppressed groups who aren’t able to shape their own representation.”
Samantha Donaldson, a young Scottish Traveller and writer for The Traveller’s Times on the exploitation of Traveller culture, said that whatever the intentions of the video, she thought it would increase the racism against Gypsies and Travellers:
“Yet again Travelling culture is being mocked and appropriated, this time by Ricky Gervais, someone I had respect for until recently,” she said.
“Stereotyping us leads to the racism we are trying so damn hard to eradicate. People think it looks harmless because it doesn't affect them. It affects us. Upsets us. Years of tradition and culture taken the mickey out of and exploited for profit.”
“Honestly, I'm sick of it. We are NOT the dancing, fortune telling Gypsy, nor the magic Gypsy and definitely not the novelty Gypsy. We are people! Why can't people treat us as such?”
TAKE PART IN OUR READERS POLL by following the link below and telling us what you think. Is ‘Lady Gypsy’ racist or not?
The film, ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’, that ‘Lady Gypsy’ is a promotional video for, was made by BBC Films and will be premiered on August 19th before being released on Netflix. Tickets are already on sale.
The Travellers’ Times approached BBC Films –based at Portland Place in the London’s West End - and asked for a statement explaining the video:
We also asked the press team handling the release of the video the following questions:
“Gervais often parodies racism and prejudice towards Black people and the disabled – but there is often a ‘sensible’ Black or disabled character in the frame somewhere to give Gervais an exasperated look and, by extension, the audience a knowing wink. So – is the ‘Lady’ in the video actually a Gypsy? If not, why wasn’t a Romany Gypsy actor used?”
“Was the trailers likely impact on racism towards Gypsies and Travellers and the way it might directly affect playground bullying discussed during the production process?”
BBC Films failed to respond by the deadline we gave them.
In a sign that the anger towards the video may be spreading beyond social media, Josie O’Driscoll said she had been visiting sites in Hertfordshire to canvas opinion.
“We took the time this morning to talk to people and listen to their opinions, I can tell you the ones we've spoken to are outraged and angry and find it highly offensive,” she said.
A spokesperson for The Traveller Movement, the campaign charity that has taken out high profile complaints to the BBC Trust and Ofcom about broadcasts and press reports that denigrate Roma, Gypsies and Travellers, said that the organisation was aware of the video and “monitoring the situation” whilst they canvassed opinions from the community.
The Travellers’ Times is also monitoring the response from our readers to the video. Please get in touch with us and tell you what you think. You can go to our Facebook Page and leave a comment, private message us, phone us on 01432 344 039 and ask for George, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will also be publishing two opinion articles on this to be published next week, so be sure to follow us for the latest news.