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


How diverse is the German film industry? Does it truly represent the wealth of facets, ideas and strengths in society? This question is being asked more and more, and not infrequently with sobering results. But what consequences can the industry draw from the criticism that has been levelled at it for years now – by people with a migration or refugee background, black people, indigenous people and people of color, representatives of people with disabilities, and those fighting for gender equality? German Films is opening a discussion on the reasons for missing diversity in front of and behind the camera in Germany.

German Films asked 52 different players in the German film industry to provide information about these and other questions: we approached associations, film schools, funding bodies, broadcasters, world distributors, and other film and television institutions. The aim of our initiative is to compile data and ascertain facts about the topic of diversity, to improve the German film industry‘s networking in this respect, to stimulate exchange, and thus to facilitate change.

The results of the survey will be published in the next four issues of German Films Quarterly (GFQ).

In GFQ 2, the issue to be published for the Cannes Film Festival, the following will have their say: film schools, acting associations (Interessenverband Deutscher Schauspieler and Bundesverband Schauspiel BFFS), the Verband der Agenturen für Film Fernsehen und Theater (Association of Film and TV Agents, VDA) and the Federal Casting Association.

GFQ 3 will appear to coincide with the film festivals in Locarno, Venice and Toronto. In this issue we will publish the results from the Association of German Screenwriters, the Association for Film and Television Dramaturgy, VeDra, and from various television broadcasters and their editorial offices.

GFQ 4 will be issued for the television trade fair MIPCom in Cannes, and the American Film Market. In this magazine, responses from the Association of Directors, numerous producers (including AG Dok and AG Kurzfilm) and various funding institutions will follow.

GFQ 1-2022 will be published in time for the Berlinale, and will conclude the series. This issue of the magazine will feature answers from the German Minister of State for Culture and Media, from world distributors, the German Film Academy, the Academy for German Television, the Queer Media Society, Pro Quote Film, and Women in Film and Television (WIFTG Germany).

In addition, German Films is planning corresponding thematic events in cooperation with international festivals. A survey examining the most successful German films abroad under the aspect of diversity is already in progress. The period covered by the survey is the past three years.

So far, there have been only a few studies in Germany dealing in detail with the topic of diversity in film and television. The online survey “Diversity in Film“ run by the civil organization Citizens For Europe is the first comprehensive survey of anti-discrimination and equality data in the German-speaking film and television industry–according to its own information. 30,000 filmmakers have been interviewed, and the results are eagerly awaited. They will be presented at a digital press conference during the European Film Market (EFM) at the Berlinale on March 4, 2021.

“Diversity in Film“ enjoys the support of a broad alliance. An initiative group from 16 different associations developed the survey‘s content and strategy and the accompanying campaign. They include, e.g., the Berlin Asian Film Network, the cross-trade network Crew United, the Afro-German artists‘ collective Label Noir, the Black Filmmaking Community, the Queer Media Society, and the Leidmedien project, which offers pre-prepared information to members of the press wishing to report on people with disabilities without stereotypes.

The common interest behind the study “Diversity in Film“ is a desire to find out: Who is represented in German-language film, and who is not? What exclusions, experiences of discrimination and precarious conditions exist, and how can we make the German film industry a fairer place for all?

Many state and private-sector institutions are supporting the project – with financial resources, like the German Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, the Federal Employment Agency, various funding agencies, Constantin Film and Netflix. But those doing so ideally also include the umbrella organization of the film industry (SPIO) and the agency against sexual harassment and violence, Themis.

A scientific study by the University of Rostock, commissioned by the MaLisa Foundation, pro­vided initial insights into the situation of women in the sector as long as six years ago. The results voiced a clear message. At that time, more than 3,500 hours of German television programs in the year as well as more than 800 German-language cinema films from the previous six years were examined. The results of the so-called MaLisa study showed the drastic state of underrepresentation for women, e.g., as experts on factual topics (30 to 70 per cent); they also revealed that women over 50 years of age hardly appeared by comparison to men (in a ratio of 1 to 8), and that they rarely embodied active heroines but appeared all the more frequently in the context of partnerships and relationships (more than twice as often as men).

In autumn 2020, another study followed on from this investigation. This time, the researchers aimed to find out what gender images are conveyed by current series from streaming providers and whether they show more diversity – also with respect to ethnic origin and sexual orientation. The Film and Media Foundation of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the public broadcaster ZDF and once again the MaLisa Foundation co-financed the study. MaLisa was founded in 2016 by actress Maria Furtwängler and her daughter Elisabeth Burda, co-owner of the Burda publishing house. The goal of their foundation is “a free, equal society“.

The new study found that streaming service productions do not reflect society as it is, either. “Women are portrayed less diversely than men. They appear less often, are younger, slimmer and are only seen in certain professions. Non-binary, intersexual and trans* characters hardly appear at all,“ sums up media researcher Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Prommer from the University of Rostock, who led this study as well as the first MaLisa study. “And as far as the visibility of ethnic diversity is concerned, the respective majority population still dominates.“

The experiences of those affected make clear how discriminatory behavior and unequal treatment still occur at many levels of the German film business. “Why are black actors in Germany regularly dubbed by whites, but white actors almost never by blacks?“ This was one question asked by members of the Black Filmmakers Community, such as actor and filmmaker Jerry Kwarteng, in conversation with German Films. He is also occasionally asked to work as a script doctor, and has received cases on his desk that were full of racist stereotypes. This is particularly annoying when you know how many professional black authors there are, who have so much more authentic material to deliver.

Kai S. Pieck was the initiator of the Queer Media Society. He emphasizes that the film industry in the USA is “certainly decades ahead of the German industry in terms of diversity – but even there, there is still a lot of work to be done“. The increasing internationalization of German productions is putting Germany “under positive pressure“, he says. In Europe, the British lead the way. In Britain they try to meet quotas for the individual marginalized groups in terms of personnel both in front of and behind the camera, as well as in regard to content.

Wolfgang Jansen of “Rollenfang“ asks, “Why, for example, are wheelchair users so rarely played by wheelchair users in Germany?“. He promotes, represents and places professional actors with disabilities in particular. He finds the classic approach of having well-known stars play disabled characters unacceptable, “even though we still see it all the time“.

“And why are women still significantly underrepresented in front of and behind the camera, even though we have been aware of the statistics for so long?“, screenwriter Cornelia Köhler would like to know. She is a representative of Women in Film and Television Germany (WIFTG). This network brings together women from all over the world who are committed to the issue of diversity and inclusion. Cornelia Köhler sees the first signs that the initiated discussions are finally bearing fruit: “It is interesting that we are being approached increasingly by male producers when they are looking for female crew members,“ she says. “The Hamburg / Schleswig Holstein Film Fund is already demanding diversity in cast and crew.“

The most effective strategy, in Cornelia Köhler‘s view, is active control by politics, broadcasters and funding institutions, ensuring binding quotas and a funding system that rewards gender equality and diversity. Especially if this goes hand in hand with creating more awareness and more attention for such issues. “Through information, workshops and seminars in the industry and at universities, for example,“ she says. And, of course, through series of articles in industry publications like GFQ.

Susanne Hermanski