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Moving Images, Transforming Germanness: Race, Migration and Transnational Filmmaking in Germany, 1968–1989 (2021-)

Till Kadritzke, Research Area 4: "Literary Currencies"
Postdoctoral Research Project

When German pundits took pains to discuss questions of race and structural racism in the summer of 2020 – provoked, tellingly, by protests after the murder of George Floyd in the USA more than by the racist and antisemitic terrorist attacks in Halle and Hanau only a few months before – two interconnected phenomena were frequently commented on: the willful ignorance and helpless illiteracy expressed by many white Germans when it comes to questions of racism; and the difficulties and complexities involved when adopting theories of race from an American academic context to Germany. At the same time, attempts to counter racialized norms of Germanness and German Leitkultur have become increasingly visible over recent decades. These attempts build upon the groundwork developed by Black German feminists in the 1980s and on the ‘postmigrant turn’ in migration studies – a call to not merely study the social phenomenon of migration but to use migration as a perspective to shed new light on Germany’s history and culture at large. 

Building on these debates, this project employs a ‘postmigrant frame of reading’ (Moslund/Petersen) to interrogate film archives from the 1970s and 1980s and their construction and critique of Germany’s politics of difference. Without ignoring mainstream German films that deal with migration and racism from both the East and the West, it examines primarily fictional and documentary films made by migrants and non-Germans that tackle Germany’s politics of racialization and its function within German racial capitalism: from short films made by Black students visiting German film schools; Turkish productions set in Germany, such as Almanya Aci Vatan (1979); films made by Jewish immigrants like Jeanine Meerapfel; or those by exiled filmmakers such as Sohrab Shahid Saless, Kidlat Tahimik and Želimir Žilnik. In tracing the journey of these filmmakers and their filmmaking traditions, the project is less interested in an aesthetics of migration than in the migration of aesthetics.

Contextualizing these films within Germany’s reluctant development into a society of immigrants, the project asks the following questions: How is normative/white Germanness (both as a subject position and as a Leitkultur) constructed, transformed and critiqued in these films? How do race, class and gender intersect in this construction of Germanness and in its critique? What do film traditions migrating to Germany from different national contexts contribute to the aesthetic rendering of these dynamics? And how did the reception of these films shape and become shaped by contemporary discourses and practices of racialization? Apart from illuminating German film culture and politics of the 1970s and 1980s from a fresh perspective, the project seeks to contribute to an ongoing debate about the translatability of theories and concepts of racial difference and antiracist politics between different historical and geographical contexts – and to carve out the multidirectional potential embedded in a transnational perspective on racialization and film.