Which films only have one actor
Assuming that German filmmakers and television makers mainly live in the big cities and metropolises of this republic - what do they see when they look around in the reality of their lives? Do German students of Turkish origin sit on the wooden benches at the University of Heidelberg? Will you be treated by a doctor with an Iranian surname in Hamburg's Schanzenviertel? Will you ever get advice from a Munich lawyer whose parents once fled Bosnia to the Bavarian capital?
When looking at current German films and series, however, even in 2020 one has the impression that the immigrant neighborhood of filmmakers is teeming with drug dealers and greengrocers. Or headscarf girls who are on the run from war, forced marriage or other adversities. And in Germany's favorite crime thriller, the crime scene, still only seven out of 47 investigators have a visible migration background, with a population share of around 25 percent in the Crime scene-Big cities often even significantly more. When asked about this, the ARD press office refers to the editorial offices and their casting decisions.
But the broadcasters are aware of the problem. The ZDF names a whole series of productions in which people with a migration background can now be seen in roles far removed from clichés. Including Minh-Khai Phan-Thi, whose parents are from Vietnam, as an investigator in Night shift or Renan Demirkan, who moved to Germany from Turkey at the age of seven, as a professor in Dr. Small.
What happens in the theater is something that is still rare in film and television
An enlightening documentary on the topic was just running on public television: Kanak cinema. Why German films need migrants. So isn't something going on after all? "I've been hearing this again and again for years: Something's going on." At the last sentence, Pierre Sanoussi-Bliss shakes his head in annoyance and his already room-filling voice becomes even louder than usual: "Nothing is happening. German television is like being washed with Persil - pure white. With a few splashes of color, perhaps." Most people are likely to see Sanoussi-Bliss as the former sidekick of the Old people be a concept. For 18 years he investigated a young white woman at his side, until he was replaced by Stephanie Stumph in 2015.
The African origin of one of the parents played no role in his role as a Munich investigator. And in the theater, too, he sometimes plays roles that have no black connotations, such as Götz von Berlichingen in Jagsthausen in the 2019 season. But in film and television? Otherwise, unfortunately, he constantly encountered racism. Once he didn't get a role. "You, we already have a black guy," said Sanoussi-Bliss. "As if we couldn't be told apart then." The other time he, who was born in Berlin, was supposed to speak with some exotic-sounding accent for a ZDF production and refused.
As a compromise, an explanatory sentence was then written in the script: His character had studied German in Germany. "So that the audience understands why the black man speaks German so well." Sanoussi-Bliss, who graduated from the Ernst Busch drama school and worked with Doris Dörrie, but has not had a day of filming for more than five years, is firmly convinced that it is not the audience: "That is much further than the gentlemen on Mainz Lerchenberg. " He gives as an example Pretty much best friends, the French cinema success about a wheelchair user and his black carer, which also attracted millions of viewers in Germany. A look across the border, however, shows that a lack of diversity is not a purely German problem. At the BAFTA awards, Joaquin Phoenix used his award speech as best actor and complained about the white selection of the nominees. At the Oscars, too, the chorus could be heard in a loop in the speeches: more women, more people of color, more diversity! And what about the former colonial power France? There, too, an actor collective got together just last year. The name: Noire n'est pas mon métier - being black is not my job.
Benita Sarah Bailey manages the Black Filmmakers Facebook group with others. The German-Ethiopian actress from Rudolstadt in Thuringia reports of similar problems as her colleague Sanoussi-Bliss. Again and again they would be cast for stereotypical roles. "In these roles we often speak broken German, English or some African language." And this material would then also be found in the "Showreels", the application videos on the agency website. "And then we'll be cast again for exactly the same clichéd roles. It's a vicious circle that we have to break out of."
Sometimes Sinem Süle would just like to play a young woman
Structural changes urgently need to be changed at all decision-making levels. Be it directors, producers, editors. Or with the members of the German Film Academy - six out of 2000 had African roots. After all, there are now efforts from the community to address the problem itself. They had only just made the film academy aware that the entire pre-selection jury for the film award was white and made counter-proposals. Among them Tyron Ricketts, who with his production company tries again and again to bring people of color to the cinema. There should be talks soon.
"Sure, something is happening," says Sinem Süle. "But it's so infinitely slow." The German-Turkish woman comes "from the island", as she says, from Sylt. Her agency is still mainly offering offers for Muslim women, mostly in the role of victims. "Of course I can use it. And I can identify with it because I am familiar with it." But sometimes she would just like to play a normal young woman without having to explain why she looks like what brought her here. Last year she starred in a Turkish agent film. Your role: Helga, the German wife of a Nazi officer. Another cliché. Süle became an actress because she lacked immigrant role models. The television program of your childhood? She just couldn't find herself in it.
The documentary Kanak cinema also asks: If such a high proportion of the population has a migration background, why are the needs of these viewers not being served? Especially in times when some non-migrant youths prefer to use the Turkish "Çüş" instead of "crass". Or instead of "Hurry up!" or "Pack it!" sometimes the Arabic "Yalla!" use? American Netflix productions have understood this for their market, so the documentary.
The actor Mehmet Ateşçi doubts that for the German market. According to his observation, there are two tracks in streaming: Either historical series such as Babylon Berlin. Or the gangster rail as in Skylines or 4 blocks. "Since Fatih Akin at the latest, there has been an area in which one should move." Then the pure cliché takes hold. And if you don't meet these stereotypes, it is difficult with the role offers.
In the 1990s, the Hamburg filmmaker and several others brought their own immigrant voice onto the market for the first time. But after the Fatih Akin phase in the nineties, there were successful comedies like Turkish for Beginners on the market. Since then, slapstick seems to be the most popular approach to the topic.
The sociologist Prof. Marianne Pieper from the University of Hamburg thinks little of such approaches: "Even caricatures depict the difference again and again." But it is about "becoming a matter of course". In their opinion, enough is still not being done in the media representation, and stereotypical representations are being reproduced again and again. After all, the "splashes of color", as Pierre Sanoussi-Bliss calls them, are becoming more and more. And awareness of the topic is growing. Yalla, Germany!
Kino Kanak - Why German Films Needs Migrants. Available at 3sat.de
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