photo © Gerd Altmann/ Geralt/ pixabay
photo © Gerd Altmann/ Geralt/ pixabay


The debate on the issue of diversity has rapidly gained momentum in Germany in recent months. The film industry, which understands itself as an important component of German society – and likes to be seen as its avant-garde – is thus under pressure. For the results of the highly-regarded online survey #VielfaltImFilm (diversity in film) indicate one thing in particular: diversity in the film business seems to prevail mainly in terms of injustices that should be deplored. Whether age, gender, weight, disability, religion, ethnicity, social status or socialisation in the East – according to statements given by the survey participants, all this and more can give rise to discrimination and cause disadvantages in the film business.

Last year, therefore, German Films set itself the task of finding out what awareness of diversity exists within the German film industry. To this end, German Films launched its own survey campaign, targeting various institutions and trades. We reported on the project already in the spring issue of GFQ 1-2021. In this issue, we will present the first results, starting with film schools as important training institutions in the industry, and with directing and acting agencies and casting offices.

More than 6,000 filmmakers from 440 professions participated in „#VielfaltImFilm“ from mid-July to the end of October 2020. 16 associations, activist groups and industry institutions have joined forces in this diversity alliance: the Berlin Asian Film Network, a network for Asian-German perspectives entitled Korientation, the Bundesverband Regie (Federal Union of Directors), the staff recruting platform Crew United, the Ber-lin project office Diversity Arts Culture, the Deutsche Blinden- und Sehbehindertenverband (German Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted), the Kinoblindgänger, the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF, the project Leidmedien for more realistic reporting about people with disabilities on a level playing field, the production company Panthertainment, the artists‘ collective Label Noir, the Black Filmmaking Community, the film and TV consultation company Langer Media Consulting, the non-profit association ProQuote Film, which is committed to increasing the proportion of women in all fields of film production, a network of media creatives entitled Queer Media Society, and the civil society organisation Citizens For Europe, which is oriented towards participation and inclusion – the latter also supported the project “Diversity in Film” financially.

The #VielfaltImFilm survey was sent to more than 30,000 Crew United members by e-mail, and the response rate was just over 18 per cent. The results show that discrimination in the work context of the film industry is not an individual problem but rather a structural one. More than 3,200 of the filmmakers surveyed provided information about their experiences of discrimination. Half of them (51 per cent) stated that they had experienced discrimination in the work context within the last two years, 5 per cent even said this was “often” to “almost always”. 823 respondents provided information about the exact context of discrimination. In the case of 6 out of 10 respondents, it had already occurred during the recruitment process, e.g. when auditioning for a role; in the case of 5 out of 10 respondents, it was during production, e.g. on set; in the case of 4 out of 10 respondents, it happened in the informal sphere, e.g. at the so-called “Bergfest” (halfway party) or other celebrations.

In #VielfaltImFilm, one in five people said they were part of the LGBTIAQ+ community and one in 100 identified as trans or non-binary. However, 4 out of 10 of these members of the “sexual diversity community” stated that they would “never” or only “sometimes” be open about their sexual orientation or identity in the work context, fearing negative consequences for their career. This is different in the private sphere, where it is only every tenth person who keeps a low profile about their orientation or identity.

Black filmmakers and those of colour interviewed are less likely to have permanent jobs in the industry and on average, they earn less money. This is also true for the women interviewed, and especially for women who are also racially dis­advantaged. Overall, more than 3 out of 4 of the filmmakers surveyed agree with the statement that the following groups are stereotyped: people of colour (78 per cent), Asian (75 per cent), Arab (87 per cent), Muslim (83 per cent), Sinti and Roma (81 per cent) and people with a low social status (79 per cent). Filmmakers with disabilities and/ or impairments are generally significantly underrepresented in the film industry. The survey found that those few also have to work more unpaid days.

There is a broad catalogue of measures which the filmmakers surveyed consider effective for increasing diversity in the industry and for anti-discrimination. Almost all of them (97 per cent) are convinced that clearly visible consequences for perpetrators are important, as are “quicker options for action” for those affected in an acute case (96 per cent). Discrimination prevention should also play a part as early as possible during training. And a specific anti-discrimination office for the sector should be established.

Nevertheless, the extent to which Germany‘s film industry is in a current state of flux regarding diversity is evident from the answers to its own catalogue of questions already received by German Films. State film schools in particular have recently implemented a range of measures to increase their students‘ and lecturers‘ awareness of diversity. This gives cause for hope that one of the demands of the Diversity in Film activists will bear fruit in the future: incorporating the topic of diversity into filmmakers‘ training as early as pos- sible. In many places, this is already happening. Six film and media schools from all over Germany responded to German Films. Some of them had already adopted the position paper “Together for Gender Justice” in February 2018. This was the result of an initiative by the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (dffb), the Film Academy Baden-Württemberg, the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF, the University of Television and Film Munich (HFF), the ifs – International Film School Cologne, and the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM). In the paper, the signatories entered into a self-commitment comprising 16 points – from the development of plans to advance women to the inclusion of gender competence as a subject in the curricula, and commitment to a zero-tolerance policy when dealing with sexualised violence as well as any form of discrimination in their own institutions.

One of the questions from the German Films questionnaire is: “Do you think that German society is currently well represented in German films and series?” The answer given by the University of Television and Film (HFF) in Munich is typical in its content: “The depiction of German society is predominantly white, heteronormative and still characterised by patriarchal structures to a large extent. It would be a good thing if audiovisual media in Germany not only depicted the diversity of reality, but were also bold enough to dream the utopia of even greater diversity.” The Munich spokespeople describe the following as underrepresented: “BIPOC, LGBTQI, but also relationship and family configurations that deviate from the classic woman-man marriage and mother-father-child structure”.

Prof. Dr. Skadi Loist, who holds a junior professorship in “Production Cultures in Audiovisual Media Industries” at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF, was directly involved in the #VielfaltImFilm study. In the context of the German Films survey, Loist emphasised that efforts are being made at Babelsberg to bring the topic of diversity into all areas of the university in an interdisciplinary way, “whether in media studies, in cinematography and sound, screenplay, editing or acting”. In the introductory lecture for all first-year students, for example, there is a session on gender/ queer, “in which we talk about representation in the media industry as well as feminist film theory, the ‘male gaze’ or ‘editing gender’.” Topics such as intersectionality and racism are also “more prominent since the George Floyd case and the sensitisation to #BlackLivesMatter”, but must be anchored more firmly in the awareness of both students and teachers.

In response to the German Films question whether, in their opinion, fiction has the task of depicting social reality, Loist, like many other university representatives, replied that this was not always the case: “But it should depict a complexity and nuance that corresponds to today‘s society”. Today‘s society “can no longer be presented in simple dichotomies and one-dimensional positions if our work is aiming for creative and cultural relevance”. Her colleagues from the IFS – Filmschule in Cologne make a similar assessment of the current situation. „The film industry will become irrelevant and eliminate itself unless it reacts to demographic change and current social issues.“

And to the question of whether, as a training institution, support from politics or the associations of the film industry would be welcome: „Politics and associations should communicate clearly that diversity and inclusion are not about the spe-cial interests of marginalised groups, but about justice and participation for all“. Meanwhile, the neighbouring Academy of Media Arts Cologne KHM speaks openly about the difficulties that often prevent good will from being put into practice on a daily basis: „The financial framework and thus the manpower (for special workshops, for example, editor‘s note) are quite simply limited”.

Prof. Richard Reitinger from Hamburg Media School emphasises that at the school diversity, intersectionality and inclusion are not only a theme in many of their films. They “naturally like and prefer to include people from this circle as students or participants in our films”. When asked whether regular industry meetings (also in a European context) could help to improve and more quickly integrate diversity, the Hamburg-based director said emphatically: “Just talking won‘t help. Scholarships and new, joint projects will.” The Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg particularly welcomes the “great commitment of our students to additional training and development” when German Films asks about experience with best practices within their own ranks. And the academy cites “the Scandinavian countries and Great Britain” when asked about countries that implement diversity in the film industry better than Germany. There – also according to the unanimous opinion of most other university col­leagues – “sometimes, the reality of an immigration society is dealt with more naturally”.

In order to find out how the market itself views the issues of diversity, intersectionality and inclusion, German Films sent the same extensive questionnaire to agencies and casting offices, among others. The German Casting Association, for example, responded: “In the casting sector, dealing with diversity is a major issue already. Intersectionality and inclusion, on the other hand, are less so. Currently, the demand for diverse casting is growing steadily, whereby the understanding of diversity in casting is limited primarily to the issue of skin colour or supposed ethnic appearance.” Particularly revealing in this context are comments made in response to the question: “What do you think of diversity checklists, not only in film funding but also in other areas of the film industry? Is there a need to institutionally anchor a code of conduct, industry standards, or a ‘quota’, like at the Oscars?” The casting directors believe that “If there were more requirements or self-commitments, it would make everyone involved more aware of the lack of diversity, but it would also make them act. When it comes to more inclusion in a cast, for example, we need more willingness to change on the part of productions, agencies and databases. Because if we want to cast inclusively, it often involves special research, which also means extra time and money. Databases would have to offer more diverse search functions, agencies would have to scout more inclusively, producers would have to think about accessibility as a factor in productions.”

German Films also received answers from the various agencies addressed. Two members of the VdA (Association of Agencies for Film, Television and Theatre) adopted an individual position. Despite being very open to the problem, they also expressed some scepticism from an artistic point of view. The orientation should “not become too programmatic”; they would like to see a “naturalness” in the issue. And from a practical point of view, the agents touch on an extremely worrying point relating to actors – and thus probably to the most visible exponents of the industry: “Often, we get no further than creative proposals on the part of casting directors, which are not implemented.” In Germany as well, these days there are some street castings, whereby experts for the ideal casting set out to cast as diversely as possible. In the end, however, the “tried and tested, clichéd castings” prevail. From the perspective of the acting agents, “it‘s hard to say exactly where things go wrong”.

In the next three issues, German Films Quarterly will report from others who can perhaps elaborate on this, as representatives from a broad spectrum of other trades will be given their say.

Susanne Hermanski