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German Theater Company Helps Minorities Tell Their Stories

  • Michael Scaturro

Germany is in the midst of a wide-ranging debate about race, religion, and inclusion of its non-white citizens. Part of that discussion has been whether the media could do more to include people from minority backgrounds.

One theater company is putting cameras into the hands of young people of Turkish, African, and other backgrounds, to enable them to tell their own stories.

It's not every day that you see Turkish-German school kids filming in the German parliament. These kids are interviewing the head of Germany's Roma community as part of a new program at a theater company in Berlin called Ballhaus Naunynstrasse.

The program pairs youths with mentors who work in TV and film. The end product is an hour-long film discussing what it feels like to be a minority in Germany.

Tackling tough subjects

The Ballhaus' previous films have made headlines nationwide. The last film dealt with racism and hate crimes against black people, Turks and others in German cities.

The program's aim is to introduce young minorities to the arts, said program director Veronika Gerhard.

"In Germany, we still have the situation that people of migrant origins have a hard time entering academy, or academia in general, and to be in the arts still is a bourgeois thing. So what we do is develop projects for people in the neighborhood for everyone who wants to participate," said Gerhard.

The latest film project is about what it means to be black in Germany.

The young people are being led by journalist Michael Goetting and filmmaker Janine Jembere.

"We hope to attract kids with Turkish backgrounds, as well as black kids, and white kids - whoever wants to work with us and is interested in the theme is welcome. I think it's very important to speak about blackness and to think about blackness and to make it public as well, because in Germany there's still little debate about it," said Goetting.

Diverse voices

Jembere said she wants to help young people have a voice in the debate about the lack of diversity in public life.

"I think it's a long story of supremacy, or normality, where certain groups of people are just muted in a way - they don't have a place in public discourse. So it's very necessary to push back into the discourse, to be in the mainstream," she said.

Some of the young people already know what they want to say in their film. Like Amanda, a 19-year-old Rwandan-German woman studying in Berlin.

"I want it to be more normal, I want people to accept another reality - the reality I see, that Germany's is not totally white, that people accept this. I think it's still very denied," said Amanda.

The film will be screened at the theater on April 15, and hopefully will serve as a bridge between Germans of all backgrounds.
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