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

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act September 11, 2011 at 7:52AM

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?
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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!

This article is related to: casting, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


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