Identity in Postmillennial German Films on Africa

by Shikuku Emmanuel Tsikhungu (Author)
©2014 Thesis XV, 215 Pages


This book is a literary and cultural investigation of the different levels of identity as revealed in German films on and about Africa. Taking sexual, spatial, linguistic and body identities as its core concern, the book elucidates how the contemporary German film narratives on Africa binarize bordeline cultural and geographical identities. While this binarism assigns the metropolitan status to the German, the African is relegated to the margins in the human socio-geocultural aspects. The book contradicts this kind of binary narration as it argues that trans-border identities are fraught with complexities that cannot be simply straitjacketed. It celebrates those moments where the narratives challenge the existing boundaries at the interstice between the North and the South. It further celebrates the moments where the film narratives recognize the complexity of cultures by acknowledging the disruptiveness and continuities of linguistic, cultural, sexual, spatial and body identities especially at the contact zone of Germany and Africa.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Content
  • Acknowledgement
  • Notes on Translations, Abbreviations and References
  • Primary texts and there Production credits
  • 1.0 Contexts and Locations
  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Theoretical Considerations
  • 1.3 Methodological Considerations
  • 2.0 Narrative and Cinematic Modes of Representation
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 The Narratives
  • 2.3 Narrative/Literary Modes
  • 2.3.1 Narrative perspective
  • 2.3.2 Revalorization of History as a Narrative Mode
  • 2.4 Visual Modes and Cinematic Conventions
  • 2.4.1 The Cinematography of Inferiorization
  • 2.4.2 Juxtaposition and Binarism
  • 2.4.3 Visual Mediations of Cultural Icons
  • 2.5 Alternatives to the Eurocentric mode
  • 3.0 Language, Identity and Representation
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Language Debates and the Representation of Africa
  • 3.3 Framing the German Language
  • 3.4 Deployment of African Indigenous Languages
  • 3.5 Disrupting Linguistic zones
  • 4.0 Sexuality and Representation
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 The Sexualization of Black Africa in Euro-consciousness
  • 4.3 Configuring the African Male Sexuality
  • 4.4 Representation of the Sexuality of the African Woman.
  • 5.0 Identity and the Representation of Bodies
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 The European Character
  • 5.3 Filming the Male Black Body
  • 5.4 Filming the Female Black Body
  • 6.0 Geo-poetics and Spatial Representation
  • 6.1 Introduction
  • 6.2 Film, Space and Points of view
  • 6.3 Spatial Consciousness in Germany; 19th Century to Colonialism
  • 6.4 Staging Germany
  • 6.5 Spectre of the Tropics: Imagining “Location Africa”
  • 7.0 Conclusions
  • 7.1 Eurocentric Inflections on Africa
  • 7.2 Counter-discourses and Hybridities
  • 7.3 Visions of the Future
  • 8.0 References
  • 8.1 Filmography
  • 8.2 Bibliography
  • 8.3 Internet Sources

Notes on Translations, References and Abbreviations

I have provided the non-English original quotations for all cited material originally in German, Swahili and Zulu. The films have been cited using their German production titles except The white Masai and Nowhere in Africa. This is because I used the version with English subtitles

On referencing, the first reference is provided as a full bibliographical account in a footnote. Further references are provided with the shortened title in footnotes. In the case of repeatedly referenced sources, subsequent references that follow each other are simply acknowledged by the word ‘ibid.’ While a single quotation mark has been used to mark phrases or statements borrowed wholly from other sources, double quotation marks are used to express emphasis.

All the films are referred by their full titles except Momella; eine farm in Afrika which is shorted and referred to simply as Momella in the main body of the dissertation.

The following abbreviations have been used:

ARDArbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, German public television main station
BBFBayerischer Banken Fonds, the Board of Bavarian Banks
BRBayerischer Rundfunk, Bavarian Broadcaster
DEFADeutsches Film-Aktiengesellschaft, the state owned German Film
Production Company established as the successor of UFA in the German Democratic Republic (GDR)
DegetoThe film distributor of ARD
FF-HamburgFilm forderung Hamburg, Film Board of Hamburg
FFAFilmförderungsanstalt, the German Federal Film Board
FFFFilmFernsehFonds Bayern, the Film and Tevelvison Fund/Board of Bavaria
GmbHGemaeinschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, a limited company
ORFÖsterreichischer Rundfunk, Austria’s Broadcaster.
SWRSüdwestdeutschland Rundfunk, South West German Broadcaster.
UFAUniversum Film –Aktiengesellschaft, the principle film production ← xi | xii → company of both the Weimar Republic and the National Socialist Germany (1917-1945). It was succeeded by DEFA
ZDFZweites Deutsches Fernsehen, German public television’s second channel

← xii | xiii →

Primary texts and their Production notes.

1. Nowhere in Africa (2001).

Directed by Caroline Link.

Leading performers; Sidende Onyulo, Juliane Köhler, Merab Ninidze.

Produced by Peter Hermann (2003).

Produced by MTM Medien and Television München Produktion.

Supported by FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, Filmförderungsanstalt, and Bayerischer Banken Fonds

Bundesbeauftragter für Kultur und Medien.

Released and distributed by Constantin Films as Nirgendwo in Afrika (2001).

Distributed as Nowhere in Africa by Zeitgeist films in 2005.

1. Die Winterreisse (2007).

Directed by Hans Steinbichler.

Leading Performers: Josef Bierbichler, Sibel Kekilli and Hanna Schygulla.

Produced by Dieter Ulrich Aselmann for d.i.e Film Ltd, Bettina Reitz for Bayerischer Rundfunk and Cornelia Ackers for ARTE.

Production supported by: FilmFersenhFonds Bayern, Filmföredungsanstalt, Österreichisches FilmInstitut and Media Programme of the European Community.

2. Eine Liebe in Afrika (2003).

Directed by Xaver Schwarzenberger.

Performers in leading roles: Heiner Lauterbach, Julia Stemberger, Hannelore Elsner and Monica Bleibtreu.

Produced by teamWorx Produktion für Kino und Fernsehen GmbH, Two Oceans Production, BR, ORF and DEGETO.

Distributed by: BR, ARD, ORF and DEGETO.← xiii | xiv →

3. Kein Himmel über Afrika (2004).

Directed by Rola Suso Richter.

Performers in leading roles: Veronica Ferres and Jean-Hughes Anglade.

Produced by: Two Oceans Production and teamWorx Produktion für Kino und Fernsehen GmbH

Distributed by Degeto Film (Germany) (TV).

Production supported by FilmFersenhFonds Bayern, Filmförderungsanstalt, Media Programme of the European Community, Medienboard Berlin, Brandenburg and ORF.

4. Mogadischu (2008).

Directed by Rola Suso Richter.

Performers in leading roles: Thomas Kretschmann, Nadja Uhl, Saïd Taghmaoui.

Produced by teamWorx Produktion für Kino und Fernsehen GmbH.

Production supported by ARD, BR, SWR, FFF and Medienboard, Berlin – Brandenburg.

5. Momella; eine Farm in Afrika (2007).

Directed by Bernd Reufels.

Performers in leading roles: Christina Neubauer, Franke Behnke, Horst Janson.

Produced by ZDF and Regina Ziegler Produktion.

6. Der weiße Afrikaner (2004).

Directed by Martin Enlen.

Performers in leading roles: Hans-Werner Meyer, Nathalie Boltt, Tim Bergmann.

Production supported by: Filmstiftung Nordrhein Westfallen, Degeto, SWR and WDR.← xiv | xv →

7. The white Masai (2005).

Directed by Hermine Huntgeburth.

Performers in leading roles: Jacky Ido, Nina Hoss, Katja Flint.

Produced by Günter Rohrbach. Production supported by FFF, BBF, FFA and FF- Hamburg.

Distributed by Constantin films both as Die weisse Massai and the English subtitled version The white Masai.

← xvi | 1 →

1.0  Contexts and Locations

1.1  Introduction

A significant amount of research especially in humanities and social sciences has been dedicated and continues to be dedicated to the study of cultures at the intersections between Germany and Africa. Key texts have been written about blacks in Germany since the pre-colonial times to the post modern moments.1 There have been texts also on the historical presence and notion of blackness in Germany.2 Thus Africa within German consciousness and discourse has received substantial attention through these texts as well as the numerous organizations designed to vouch for the rights of Afro-Germans in the increasingly multicultural Germany. However this confluence between Germany and Africa seems to be concentrated at the German ‘centre’ as less and less research and studies is dedicated to the interrogation of the German presence in Africa. It is only recently that research in the German presence in Africa has started to emerge and mostly in the American universities.3 And to supplement this trickle of studies, a series of panels at the German Studies Association annual conference was dedicated to the research on Germans in Africa in the 36th annual conference held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA) in October 2012.4 Even scantier is research on the visual and artistic representations of Africa by Germans.

This book is a result of research on identity and representation of bodies, languages, spaces and sexualitites in German films on Africa. Identity, as will be used in this book involves what Weedon calls ‘constituting subjects within languages, locations and ideologies.’5 Judith Butler alerts to the fact that identity is performative i.e. the repeated assumption of identities in the course of quotidian life is what is soon used to mark out individuals. She notes that, ‘identity is performatively constituted by the very expressions that are said to be its results.’6 Thus for example when Africa is repeatedly shown, just as Edward Said says of the Orient, as ‘one of the deepest and most recurring images of Europe’s Other,’ then the African identity does not give rise to these traits; it is simply a product of these traits as they are assigned to it or as both Europe and Africa perform them in popular media and culture.7 So then identity is not a natural common sense acquisition but an aspect that is culturally acquired through repetition. Butler, in her later writings, sums it up when she notes that, ‘performativity must be understood not as a singular or deliberate ‘act’, but, rather, as the reiterative and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects that it names.’8

Research on the identity and politics of representation of sexuality, language, space and bodies in post-millennial German films is a cultural interdisciplinary one that straddles between boundaries of a number of disciplines includ ← 1 | 2 → ing cinema studies, literary studies, African studies, postcolonial studies and German studies. This is because the question of filming other cultures, nations, societies or spaces is always an act of unveiling the hidden desires and the public discourses about the “filmed” by the “filming” culture, nation or space. These desires and discourses have the potential of being investigated from multiple fronts that can coalesce into interdisciplinarity. As such one can locate this kind of research in the general cinema studies since the texts of analysis are films that can be categorized as docudramas, feature length films, TV dramas, fictionalized screen biographies, as well as fiction dramas. Anne Fuchs records that,

…because film reflects on its own narrative insufficiency, film can offer space for criticism and ethical reflection. Film therefore analyzes the function of cinema as cultural institution within a memory-obsessed culture at a time when reliance on postmemory and mediated images is becoming increasingly prevalent.9

This memorization of culture and mediation of images is realized in concrete spatial and temporal terms as Anton Kaes asserts that, ‘films signify something not in abstracto, but concretely at a certain moment in time, to a certain place, and for a certain audience.’10 Therefore critical analysis of films is an exercise that touches not just on culture as something frozen in the past but on culture as a quotidian practice. Thus film is not just part of culture but an ‘important culture of our time that contributes to public debates to a considerable degree.’11

An analysis of film overlaps with literary theories at the thematic and textual level since issues that emerge from the narrative conventions relating to the formation of subjectivities of individuals and of the state are common to both.12 Furthermore an analysis of film will invite the study of film as a text; a visual text to be read just as a written text (novel) is read in the ‘act of reading’ and a dramatic text is read in the ‘act of spectatorship.’ A film is a re-creation by its director just as a play is also re-created by a director from the material availed to him or her by a playwright. When this re-creation tells a story, then it becomes in Morris Beja’s words, ‘a narrative film.’13 A filmic story can be read as a literary story since it carries meaning, embellished in form just like a literary story. However it has other components which distinguish it from other literary forms i.e. the cinematographic features. Beja further argues that, ‘the fusion of story and cinema places film art in the continuing tradition of such narrative forms as myth, the folktale, the epic, and the novel.’ Film is thus the last stage in the continuum of literary forms. Writing about the literariness of film, Bernard Dick posits that film makes a narrative statement by bringing together a series of interrelated shots.14 It is the relationship between these shots that forms a scene which in turn relates with other scenes to form a sequence whose interconnec ← 2 | 3 → tion with other sequences eventually tells the story. This narrative story is wrought by means of narrative devices. Bernard Dick further divides these devices into those that are peculiar to film and others that are shared with, between and among other forms of art since film is multi-visual; subsisting on visual and verbal languages. Those peculiar to film (cinematic conventions) include cuts, fades, dissolves, point of view shots, eye-line matching, the 1800 rule, wipes and zooms as well as camera movements and angles. These elicit, elucidate, construct and manifest subjectivity in terms of positioning both the narrator and the spectator. This subjective portrayal ‘…of characters, actions and events enables the audience… to become involved in the diegesis (the world within the film, including elements not necessarily seen on screen) itself.’15 On the other hand, because these assorted movements (tilts, pans, tracks and rolls) and their various combinations have such an important effect on the relationship between the subject and the camera (and therefore the viewer), camera movements has great significance as a determinant of meaning.16

On another plane it is possible to interrogate a film text by pegging an argument on its contexts as is done in cultural studies. Ella Shohat and Robert Stam in their two texts, Unthinking Eurocentrism (1994) and Multiculturalism, Postcoloniality and Transnational Media (2003) have ably demonstrated that it is possible to read a film using the aesthetics, interpretive strategies and criteria of evaluation adapted from those of both cultural and literary studies. This is also a view supported by Sandra Ponzanesi and Marguerite Waller who have opened paths into interrogating the recurrence and the residues of the cinematic legitimatization of the domination of the metropolitan centres over colonial peripheries in the post-colonial films from around the world.17

Interrogating films of German making (both at conception and production levels) and how they refract images of Africa; of nations emerging from the problematic moments of colonialism, requires one to be alive to the global cultural discourses that operate at the points of intersection of cultures of the Northern Hemisphere and cultures of the global south. That is why I anchor the arguments in this book in postcolonial studies and position Germany as the metropolitan, German films as metropolitan narratives and African space as the indigenous. I am using the words ‘metropolitan centres’ in the sense Richards uses it to refer to ‘those countries which have elaborate networks of film production and distribution both at commercial and cultural superiority levels.’ Such centres, he further poses, ‘have perfected in producing commercial films that dominate in distribution as well as crafting seductive imagery.’18 If Germany is one such country, how then does it package Africa in the films by its cinema? How are African sexualities, its peoples, its spaces and its languages filmed? Film, being an instrument of artistic representation, cannot be presumed to be politi ← 3 | 4 → cally and culturally innocent. It must be tasked to bear responsibility to what it carries in form of politics and cultures. How it represents these cultures using aesthetic codes and tropes is the question that this chapter seeks to answer.19 Film being one of the ways of telling a story, it follows the literary conventions of rendition. Thus the film consumers do not just garner meaning from the literary content only but also from the audio visual as well. Unlike in written narratives where scenes are brought to life only by the eye of the mind, in film narrative, they are brought to life by both the eye of the mind and the real eye. As Bordwell and Thompson inform, the ‘human eye is stimulated faster, more subtly and more powerfully than the eye of the mind.’20 In film, the director organises the filmic text to tell the story the way he or she thinks best. He/she decides which kind of shot will betray the thoughts of certain actions. At the editing level the director decides which sequence precedes or follows which one. Thus the director is heavily implicated in the final product that is shown to the viewer. Although the director is not present in the story, through the images, the audience can discern symbols and signs that may allude to his/her thoughts and attitudes and indeed those of the whole crew of the filmmakers whether consciously or subconsciously especially when related to the discursive powers that produce the film.

This is also a study in German cinema, in the loose sense of ‘German’ as a national entity, as it analyses films made by German filmmakers and how they position Africa and Africans. The post millennial German cinema, Jaimey and Brad argue, is still engaged with national, indeed singularly national discourses.21 If one is to understand nations discursively, these films manifest and above all address the German nation both in content and form. Virtually all the films selected for analysis have been directly or indirectly, wholly or partly funded by German states’ money through foundations and/or corporations, or broadcasters or a combination of any of the three. Though there is no super single national subject producing films, there are, as Jaimey and Brad further argue, ‘…to greater and lesser degrees the discourses of the nation in and around cultural products, which in turn constitute the nation.’22 German films about Africa are thus German cultural products that invite debate on how the German nation regards its socio-cultural relationship with Africa and its complexity. The identity of a nation or national identity has been defined as a collective albeit largely unconscious, effort to imagine and define national interests, national desires and a collective will.23 These national consciousnesses are best exemplified when the nation imagines its social-cultural phenomena in relation to other nations. Jacqueline Rose posits that the narratives that construct social relations in a nation are indeed the mothers of the unconscious dreams of those particular nations. She goes further to theorize that such fantasies produce social reality and these ← 4 | 5 → social realities (created out of the fantasies) in turn mutate to create their own fantasies. She writes that,

Fantasy is not …antagonistic to social reality; it is its precondition or psychic glue. But fantasy surely ceases to be a private matter if it fuels, or at least plays its part in, the forging of the collective will. More simply, you don’t have to buy into Freud’s account of hidden guilt to recognize the force in the real world of the unconscious dreams of nations.24

The film industry is one of the producers of the national fantasy which may, as Rose points out, shape the collective national desires and collective will. That is why I position the German films about Africa as cinematic cultural productions that reflect the relationships between Germany and Africa which need to be subjected to critical attention and examination. And to examine this relationship, three socio-cultural phenomena (sexuality, identity, and language) are used since they are the most contested and discussed in postcolonial criticism especially when placed at the tip of transcultural narratives. It is these three phenomena that vividly manifested the ruptures and continuities at the contact zone of cultures especially the one between African and Europe (Germany included) during colonialism. I take the three as constituting the image of a people and their spaces and since the postcolonial Africa is still engaged in an exercise of image definition so as to engage the world on terms of equality and mutual respect, it is important to interrogate contemporary cultural productions of the Western world to reveal the kind of image they circulate about Africa.


XV, 215
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
Verdummung Sexualität Identität Sprache
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. XVI, 215 pp., 7 b/w fig., 1 graph

Biographical notes

Shikuku Emmanuel Tsikhungu (Author)

Shikuku Emmanuel Tsikhungu studied Literature and Theatre Arts at Kenyatta University (Kenya) and carried out research at the Free University of Berlin (Germany). He currently teaches in the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology of Kenyatta University where he offers courses in Theatre and Film Studies.


Title: Identity in Postmillennial German Films on Africa
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234 pages