Journalist criticised for posing as black man in film
GERMAN ANTI-RACISM groups have attacked a legendary investigative journalist for going undercover in blackface to expose racism in daily life.
Günter Wallraff spent over a year travelling through Germany disguised as fictional Somalian man Kwami Ogonno for the film Schwarz auf Weiss( Black on White).
Wearing an Afro wig, dark contact lenses and face paint, he travelled to 120 towns and cities across Germany fitted with a hidden camera. “I have many black friends here who, time and again, are harassed solely because of their skin colour but who, to avoid further trouble, don’t talk about it,” said Wallraff. “I wanted to experience this first hand, so I disappeared into this role.”
Wallraff is a household name in Germany: in 1977 he went undercover as a reporter at Bild, Germany’s leading tabloid, to expose manipulative reporting.
In the years since he has disguised himself as a Turkish migrant and a call centre worker, always with the goal of uncovering inequality in German life.
His latest role makes for uncomfortable viewing – for many reasons.
In the eastern cities of Cottbus and Halle, he is attacked by drunken youths and pensioners alike. But it is not just in eastern cities that he encounters hostility: in the Bavarian city of Rosenheim, an inquiry for information about a hunting licence ends when an official threatens to call the police and throws him out of the town hall.
At a shop in the same city, a man shouts at him: “Africa for the apes! Europe for the whites!”
The film has not just divided opinion, it has also divided its critics.
One camp of critics has attacked Wallraff for, in their eyes, playing a passive agent provocateur. “In every scene, Kwami plays naive, a dummy that’s put through every crash test,” commented Die Weltnewspaper. “Kwami isn’t real. He is a golliwog with which Wallraff plays the great enlightener.”
Other critics have attacked the film for not using Afro-Germans.
“A painted white person is not a black person and cannot have the same experiences even if he thinks he can,” said Noah Sow, author of Everyday Racism in Germany. “Wallraff is earning money and respect on the backs of oppressed minorities.”
It’s a damning verdict, and one shared by leading anti-racism organisations in Berlin.
“All Wallraff found out with his showmanship is that Germany is more or less an openly racist society, a totally uninteresting conclusion that anyone who cares already knows,” says Annette Kahane of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, an organisation named after an Angolan man killed by skinheads in eastern Germany in 1990. Like many campaigners, she has attacked Wallraff’s decision to go in blackface – something barely commented on in film reviews and reports. “The fact that his disguise is considered acceptable,” she said, “just goes to show that, on race issues, this country is still in the middle ages.”