Totally Normaaal: Actors of Foreign Origin in Contemporary Cinema


Totally Normaaal: Actors of Foreign Origin in Contemporary Cinema

Until the mid-1990s a commonplace amongst Turkish-German actors in Germany was that "German film may have Turkish roles, but it doesn't have roles for Turks." This situation has since changed. Beyond being cast for comic effect as walking stereotypes in film comedies, as shady figures in television mysteries or as the token foreigner on tv shows like "Lindenstraße", a whole host of young, transnational actors have established themselves as stars on the German film and television scene. Among those who have found leading roles in some of the most popular German films of the past few years are Hilmi Sözer ("Elefantenherz", "Voll Normaaal"), Mehmet Kurtulus ("Nackt" [Naked]), Stipe Erceg ("Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei"), and Jasmin Tabatabai ("Mondscheintarif" [Moonlight Tariff]). These successful actors and actresses comprise as heterogeneous a group as their director colleagues, from the comedian Hilmi Sözer to the manly Mehmet Kurtulus, from young rebels like Max Ophüls Award winner Stipe Erceg ("Yugotrip") to the wild and melancholic Birol Ünel ("Gegen die Wand").

Source: Senator, DIF
Moritz Bleibtreu and Idil Üner in "Im Juli" (In July, 2000)

Does Background Even Matter?

Whether they appear in films by German or non-German directors, the background of the characters performed by this new generation of actors tends to play a secondary role in casting decisions. Even when Hilmi Sözer, in "Auslandstournee" ("Tour Abroad", 2000), plays a Turk who travels all the way across Europe to Istanbul, or when Serpil Turhan plays a Turkish woman from Berlin in "Der schöne Tag" ("A Fine Day", 2001) - the development of these characters and the conflicts they experience are generated by issues that now have little to do with their own ethnic background or that of their parents. And Idil Üner's performance of a Turkish bombshell in Fatih Akin's spirited road movie "Im Juli" ("In July", 2000) consciously plays with the old cliché of the "exotic and mysterious beauty," just as the entire film toys with all manner of national stereotypes. On the other hand, transnational actors are frequently cast without anyone noticing their background at all. Performers of Eastern Europe origin often play German characters. Stipe Erceg comes across as unquestionably German in "Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei" ("The Edukators", 2004), just as Lenn Kudrajwizki does in "Kiki & Tiger" (2003). One might well see this casting policy as providing a method for breaking down boundaries.