The Holocaust that resulted in the deaths of millions of European Jews during World War II is well known. However, fewer people are aware that several other groups of people were targeted for elimination by the Nazis, including the Roma, often referred to in the English-speaking world by the misnomer of “gypsies.”
A People Uncounted: The Untold Story of the Roma aims to make up that deficiency in public knowledge. Director Aaron Yeger draws on a variety of interview subjects, including Holocaust survivors, historians, activists, musicians, artists, and average citizens, each of whom has a story to tell about how their Roma ethnicity has shaped their lives. Sadly, prejudice against the Roma lives on—one woman insists on being seen in shadow because she doesn’t want to harm the career of her son, a successful professional, and Roma today are the ethnicity most often singled out for discrimination in the European Union.
Yeger also covers, briefly, a history of the Roma, with an emphasis on the ill treatment they have suffered over the years in Europe. It didn’t start with the Holocaust, but reaches back at least to the 1400s, when several countries expelled Roma from their borders. They received this treatment periodically, by (among others) the Hapsburg dynasty and England’s Henry VIII.
Independent of these threats to life and limb, Roma culture is seldom understood by those outside their society. Instead, stereotypes of dancing peasants and fiddlers or of thieves and scoundrels have been perpetuated in popular culture, and for many people, that’s all they know. One of the greatest services of A People Uncounted is to provide some images that contradict these stereotypes, and Yeger does this with his many interview subjects, who are forthcoming about their lives and goals. The filmmakers traveled to 11 countries to shoot A People Uncounted, which in itself is a tribute to the international nature of the Roma.
For a subject so potentially fraught with emotion, A People Uncounted is a surprisingly calm film, which is a good thing: Yeger’s case is so strong that it has no need to gin up the audience’s feelings. Stephen C. Whitehead’s cinematography plays a key role in conveying mood as well as fact, and he won the Robert Brooks award for best documentary from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers for his work on this film.
Extras on the disc include extended interviews with seven participants. | Sarah Boslaugh