23 January, 2012
The oozlum bird visits Berlin
So what's all the fuss about, then? Well, one of the characters is an elderly Jew, and the other is an elderly Black man, or African-American as we are now required to call them. To play the latter part, the director has selected a White actor who blacks up for the performance.
Outbreak of mass hysteria ensues. Indeed, this kraut bloggeuse dons her finest dungarees of dudgeon and really gets stuck in. (Good stuff, but if you do decide to follow the link I'd recommend you to stand well back from the screen and have a fire extinguisher handy.)
To be honest I can't work myself into too much of an impassioned hate about all of this. In the director's position, I would probably have cast a middle-aged or elderly Black actor as first choice but, given that he has been bullied into defending his position, his explanation of his reason for selecting a White actor in blackface seems perfectly sensible to me. Actor-director* Dieter Hallervorden explained that good elderly Black actors with a native command of German were not that easy to find. Blacking up a White actor who was already a member of his company was a more feasible solution. Not that he needed to explain his choice, in my view, but there you go.
I know nothing of the thespian scene in the fatherland but this seems entirely plausible. The main source of diversity™ in Germany has until relatively recently been of Turkish origin. I wonder, could the racehustlers and screamers perhaps have been satisfied by having a Turkish actor black up. I mean, they are yer pukka ethnics, innit, if a touch on the pale side. Or a young genuine-black® actor be made up to look older? No hold on, that's ageist. Or a Chinese female in drag? Hmm.
Oh I give up.
I'll leave you with two questions.
Firstly, what would the anonymous Black actor who complained on CiF that he was excluded from historical (more precisely described, pre-Windrush) roles by his colour have to say about this? He seemed quite keen on flexibility in casting.
Secondly, I note that the other lead role is played by the play's director, Dieter Hallervorden. The character portrayed is an elderly Jew, and yet I understand that Hallervorden himself is in fact a gentile. OK, I can understand that the supply of native-speaking elderly Jewish actors in Berlin may well be a bit scant for historical reasons, but where oh where are the outraged pieces at Harry's Place and the JC, I wonder.
This kind of brouhaha is apparently intended to protect and promote the life chances of Black people. It is more likely in my arrogant opinion to have the opposite effect. In Hallervorden's position I would not be repenting my evil racist ways and seeking to employ genuine Black actors for future Black roles. Dealing with the concomitant hustlers, the quotaists, the racecarders and the pervasive atmosphere of resentful entitlement is just too much hassle. Instead I would be quietly excising pieces with Black characters from my company's repertoire.
* I'm slightly confused here. The Deutsche Welle article linked above refers to Hallervorden as "director", while the poster displayed at Yo, Is this Racist? reads "Regie: Thomas Schendel". Perhaps Hallervordern is director, ie head honcho, of the theatre rather than the play itself. Whatever, I don't think it affects the substance of the above.
And, when challenged in comments, shows just the sort of response we've come to expect in the left...
"...i am a german person of colour..."
Uh-huh, so not really German then.
Come on fraulein, none of us got uptight when Michael Jackson whitey'd up, did we ?