Arhea Marshall '15

Voiced Over: Reimag(in)ing Blackness in German Film

For my honors project, I wanted to examine the role of visual perception of individuals and groups in Germany and how visual perception informs perceptions of German identity.  The focus group for this study was "Black" Germans.  The goal of my project was to examine the presence and perception of blackness in Germany through the lens of German films.  I use the concept of a visual archive to investigate the ways in which blackness was and is being re-imagined and reimaged from past images.
Six films provided a spectrum of images, genres and plots, with which I could analyze historic relationships to blackness.  The films, listed with their director and release year, were: Toxi (R.A. Stemmle, 1952), Keiner liebt mich (Dorris Dörrie, 1994), Schwarzfahrer (Pepe Danquart, 1992), Otomo (Frieder Schlaich, 2000), Alles wird gut (Angelina Maccarone, 1998) and Zwischen (Todd Ford, 2006).  All of the films are set in various locations throughout Germany.  I consider the films as artistic constructions using deliberate techniques to create "realities" and in relation to historical frameworks: beginning slightly before German colonialism in Africa and incorporating German civilian and military encounters with French colonial troops, African-American soldiers and media produced images of Blacks.  I use international events with nation specific significance as benchmarks of these interactions: World War I and II, the postwar period of American occupation and up into Reunification. The images that emerge identify blackness as representative of specific historical identities, as Besatzungskinder ("occupation children"), as aggressive enemies, and as refugees.  The images seldom reference the complexity of context in which these images materialize, such as the aftermath of Germany losing its colonial possessions in Africa after World War I.

This creation, consumption, utilization and reproduction of images of blackness and Black peoples and often fictionalizations that co-emerge display how the visual archive works.  The archive is embodied both physically and mentally, althoug itself is a figurative concept.  It has to do with how (eine Art des Sehens) and by who Blacks in Germany are viewed.  I concluded that there is a plurality of blackness and how it relates to German identities in German film or in Germany throughout its history.  Furthermore, I observe how blackness surfaces dependent on perceptions of whiteness as normal.  This in part defines the alterity of blackness in Germany, including past citizenship exclusion and marginalization if not total absence ffrom visual archives of "Germanness."

Funding from the Grua/O'Connell Research Fund supported a research trip to Germany during Winter Break 2014, where I was able to conduct interviews, visit and conduct research at the Deutsche Kinemathek.  The faculty in the German Department and staff at the libraries provided immeasurable assistance and accommodation; it has been my pleasure to undertake such a project with their feedback, critique and perspectives.