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More On The Experiences Of Black Actors In Europe Versus Black Actors In The USA...

by Tambay A. Obenson
September 11, 2011 7:52 AM
13 Comments
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Recall the series of entries we posted on the black British actor's lament on the lack of onscreen opportunities for black talent in the UK, and the so-called talent drain as some of those actors and actresses are said to be fleeing west to the land of milk and honey, aka Hollywood, where better opportunities supposedly await them?

Well, skip a couple of countries over eastward, to Germany, where 42-year old black German actress Liz Baffoe was born and raised (daughter of a Ghanaian diplomat), and where she's been a working actress for some 16 years, from starring in one of the country's more successful TV series Linden Street, to supporting roles in German movies.

"I can only play a female asylum seeker or a prostitute" is the sub-heading for THIS article on the German RTL news site, dated today (courtesy of the Black German Cultural Society).

Sound familiar? :)

The article, as you might guess, centers on Baffoe's frustration with the German media landscape, and the fact that she feels discriminated against, and thus her roles limited, because she's black.

Here's some of the rest of the piece (translated thanks to Google):

In an interview with the 'image' the actress says that she's rarely offered challenging roles. "Because I'm black, I should almost always play the asylum seeker, refugee women, or prostitutes."

Known mostly for her role in Linden Street, where she played the asylum seeker Mary Sarikakis, followed by roles as a maid in, The Manns, and as an illegal in In The Name Of The Law, and as a war victim from Mozambique, in All Friendship. Liz Baffoe speaks German without an accent, was born in Bonn, the daughter of a Ghanaian diplomat, and has lived for many years in Cologne. "In any popular series, a black person should have a lead role. And even the normal supporting roles are not filled with blacks. Here, the series should indeed be a reflection of society. In reality it is not unusual for a black woman to work as a waitress. But in casting, they say, 'This is too complicated. As one would indeed explain why the waitress is black." Why do you need to explain that today?"

Ok, so, unless I'm just mistranslating what she says above, my understanding is that black actors aren't even allowed to play waitresses, because, as she says, from the casting agents' POV, an explanation in whatever they are casting for would have to be made to explain why the waitress is black?

Right now I wish I had some friends or acquaintances in Germany that I could email or call to get schooled on this, because, I need an explanation to clarify.

But Ms Baffoe goes on to add:

"I am recognized, people are happy when they see me... " she says. Her dream would be, to, for once, play a doctor or lawyer. "In the U.S., or France, it is normal that TV reflects the society. I want to achieve that in Germany as well. And most importantly, I do not want to be reduced to my skin color!"

Again, all sound familiar? Her laments - especially her desire for black actors in Germany to play doctors or lawyers for once - read like the same kind of complaints blacks in the USA have had, starting decades ago. I recall The Cosby Show speaking to that *need*, as it showed an upwardly mobile, super-educated black family, with a physician father and an attorney mother (there are your doctor and lawyer right there), and it was quite wholesome family entertainment.

Also worth noting is that, again, as the Brits did, Baffoe also looks to the USA as an example of the kind of diversity she wants to see imitated in Germany. And as I said in previous posts on the Brit issue, the interesting thing with this is that blacks here in the USA feel that there's still a really long way to go before we see the kind of diversity in film and TV that we'd like to see.

But I'm sure we have some readers in Germany (or who are familiar with German media where blacks are concerned), who can shed some light on this for those of us who aren't as informed. I'm still stuck on the fact that black actors can't even play waitresses in restaurants because the producers of a show feel like they'd need to explain why the waiter or waitress is black.

Somebody help me out!

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13 Comments

  • smesch | September 14, 2011 9:44 AMReply

    Liz Baffoe is right:

    There is a staggering amount of typecasting and lazy cliches in German TV dramas, and most of the time, non-white women get victimized and/or lack agency.

    If this is the ONLY article that you're going to read about diversity in German media, though...

    ...please note that there ARE lots of well-known talk show hosts, reality personalities and (at least some) black soap opera characters:

    It's FAR from perfect, and there's lots and lots of problems.

    But while I'm sure that each of these black German media workers could tell some equally depressing inside stories as Liz Baffoe (and SHOULD speak up!)...

    ...you can still turn on the TV and see a number of popular media workers:

    Mo Asumang, Shary Reeves, Laura Schneider, Cherno Jobatey, Arabella Kiesbauer, Daisy Dee, Mola Adebisi, Ernest Allan Hausmann, Milka Loff Fernandez, Bruce Darnell, Detlef Dee! Soost, Patrice Bouédibéla

    Some have African roots. Some are from the Carribean or the US. There could (and should) be TONS more. But no one asks "Why is there a black person on TV? What's his background?".

    It's bad. But not THAT bad.

  • Larry | September 14, 2011 3:53 AMReply

    Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

    The Netherlands and Belgium are more crowded than Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and “assimilating” with them.

    Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to "assimilate," i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

    What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

    How long would it take anyone to realize I'm not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

    And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn't object to this?

    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

    They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

  • Team Noah Sow | September 12, 2011 11:38 AMReply

    Neither are there only a few Black people in Germany nor are most of them immigrants. Nor are we just beginning to unite, but we have been doing just that for generations (read up on May Ayim, ISD, ADEFRA et alt.).
    Here's a book on the subject, including a chapter on Black German actors , Liz Baffoe's statements are accurate:

    http://deutschlandschwarzweiss.de/en/index.html

    Be sure to check the "links" on Black German history on the above web page.
    Nobody has to know everything, but we should recognize each other's experience and history. Google up.

    http://blackgermans.us/convention2011/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=130&Itemid=171

  • Geneva Girl | September 12, 2011 3:17 AMReply

    I find British television pretty progressive. Sometimes I've wondered whether the character would have been black in real life; e.g., the personal assistant of a princess was a black man. It's not perfect, but it's better than other countries.

    In Germany, the largest minority group is, I believe, Turks. I wonder how they're represented on German TV.

    Also, since this actress is Ghanian she speaks English. She needs to break into the British market.

  • illthoughts | September 12, 2011 2:06 AMReply

    That's strange. It seems to me that the U.K. is doing better things with Blacks than Hollywood. They have two highly acclaimed shows with blacks as the lead, LUTHER, A SHADOW LINE, here in the U.S. we have none. They have a sci-fi film with the black prospective ATTACK THE BLOCK and here in the U.S. all we get is Precious, For Colored Girls and other super depressing films. I can see Germany not being a Black hotspot for film but coming to America to get a part... they're going to be sadly mistaken when they get here.

  • Orville | September 12, 2011 1:41 AMReply

    I think despite the complaints black Americans have about Hollywood the USA is more progressive than any other place on the planet in relation to black entertainment. America has some top black actors people like Tyler Perry, Will Smith, Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, Denzel. A black actor definitely doesn't have it easy due to racism but remember a lot of Europe is very homogenous. I believe Germany has over 80 million people most of them Germans. Since few blacks live Germany perhaps German producers just don't know how to relate to them? I read the UK has over 56 million people and blacks make up less than 3% of the total population there. I remember watching a BBC show on youtube called Holby City in the UK with a black gay doctor and his white male love interest. The UK has its problems too but I think perhaps people in the anglo countries don't realize how tough it is in other parts of the world.

  • Dee | September 11, 2011 12:13 PMReply

    Another day another adaptation of Jane Eyre. BBC waited for America to tell it that Idris could act before Luther hit our screens.

    Generally, apart from the issue Based dramas (Kill me before I have to suffer another one) the main roles for black actors in the UK are "bod in the back to make sure it doesn't look like a whitewash" So a part as 3rd lead in a 25 episode season in the US is going to look pretty damn attractive.

    Outside of that, the Brits seem to be able to pick the choice roles and are parlaying that little bit of star power into something meaningful.

  • Mecca | September 11, 2011 10:56 AMReply

    Well, this is no surprise! Black ppl experience discrimination in every profession.

    The only thing I would suggest to Baffoe is that she link w/ a director/writer and create a indie project or something starring her as the lead actress playing a doctor/lawyer.

    We tend to have the same discussions on this site regarding the lack of on screen time for AA actors & Brits. It is crucial that we create "our" own opportunities. We cannot allow ourselves to be dependent on white folks to feed us.

    I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. "

    - Bill Cosby

  • Clnmike | September 11, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    “In the U.S., or France, it is normal that TV reflects the society..."

    Say what?

  • Aniversum | September 11, 2011 9:35 AMReply

    not necessarily. Movies and cinemas are not the only mediums for films...in the UK, there are some people who are producing indepedent series, for example, Meet the Adebanjos, where the life of a Nigerian family living in the UK is portrayed in form of a sitcom. I think through the use of internet, that more people will start to realize, that there is no use in complaining when something is missing.

    People are starting to realize, that they can also create things on their own.
    and sooner or later, the majority of black people will turn to these kind of projects than watch movies with an all white cast.

  • Aniversum | September 11, 2011 9:26 AMReply

    hey there,

    I am a black woman living in Austria(neighbour state of Germany), and it is true, to see a black man or woman in a film production or series is a rare thing to happen.

    Genrally I have to say that the black people in the german speaking countries in Europe(Germany, Austria, Switzerland) are just beginning to unite...

    In these countries, black people are not bound together through history (like in the U.S.) most of the black people living here came by choice and came to these countries as immigrants, so the feeling of being isolated is rather familiar for black people here.

    I for example started a blog on natural hair in german language, because no information on how to maintain natural hair is available in german language, though, there are a lot people searching for it. Not everybody speaks english that well, and secondly all the mothers of biracial kids, who have no connection to the "black" world, would think of searching this kind of information in English.

    and I also would love to see more black male and female actresses in german productions but here the image of black people is nowhere represented.

    But I hope that things will start to evolve soon...it is time for change.

  • JMac | September 11, 2011 9:22 AMReply

    Interesting. More grass is greener mentality but I guess it is greener here if acting as a waitress is too complex.

    Better get black Hollywood up and running or we'll miss the zeitgeist - and American blacks will lose work to people who just may take any role presented to them.

  • joseph phillips | February 26, 2013 11:54 PM

    Things will change over time. Your journey has only just begun. those of us in the UK and the USA have had a head start due to a longer presence in our societies. While we still hav a long way to go, it is much better than in the past.

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