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The Human Medium: Identity in Film, Fashion, and Theater

Mira Naidoo, Kendra Ferrier, Hannah Lewis, and Roujia Wang

Reenacting German and American Identities
Berlin and Jena - Summer 2015
University of Washington Honors Program
I. Abstract
As a group, we have chosen to examine the use of various
mediums as a means of identity expression and self-advocacy, as well
as how these artistic and often personal choices impact outside
perceptions of certain groups. Focusing on personal choices, Hannah
will be researching how people use clothing as a form of expression
and how society perceives them as a result of these decisions. Mira will
be exploring how various minorities are portrayed in films and how
German-produced films and those produced by the groups of interest
may differ in their portrayals of the minority group. Roujia and Kendra
will both be exploring German theater, examining the different aspects
of social change that can be achieved through live performance. Roujia
will be examining how ethnic minorities use stage performance as a
means for social inclusion by the majority, while Kendra will be looking
at how marginalized groups use theater arts to advocate for equal
rights and opportunities in their own communities. In totality, our
research will focus on how judgments based on appearance can affect
daily interactions and how these judgments are either perpetrated or
broken down through the human mediums of fashion, film, and theater.

II. Background
Identity most visibly manifests itself in the choices that people
make in their own presentation. This belief translates itself into an
examination of fashion and clothing choices as a form of selfexpression. However, as our group, loosely described as Performance,
looked for a more unifying theme, we chose to extend this concept of
identification to include the artistic choices involved in film and theater.
In synthesizing the different lenses we each chose to view identity
with, we arrived at the broader concept of a human medium, that
guides both the formation and perceptions of identity. Since identity is
a main theme of the study abroad program as a whole, we decided to
make that a focus of our entire project to help ground and unite us.
From there we decided to look at how the identities of groups or
individuals are expressed through fashion, film and theatre. Unlike
music or visual arts such as painting or drawing, you dont need tools
and years of practice. This makes these forms of expression, where you
only really need your body, more accessible to individuals of a variety
of backgrounds where the tools for other arts may not have been
available to them. The accessibility of these forms of expression make
them among the easiest ways to share the unique experiences of

individuals and come to significant understandings about the different

identities they are rooted in.

Film is a form of self-expression that not only conveys the beliefs
and attitudes of the creators, but also has the potential to influence
those of the audience. In this way, it is an incredibly important medium
when it comes to the separation of "others" in society. Through the lens
of the filmmaker, society can either be broken up into its pieces or
seen as a whole. It is my aim to look at the portrayal of immigrants in
German cinema, in films produced by mainstream production
companies and those produced by the demographic in question. The
treatment of this often-marginalized group in fictional narratives
speaks volumes about the larger perceptions of their role in society,
and to what prejudices come attached to this identity. The other side of
film as a medium for immigrant stories are those told by the
immigrants themselves. These works represent a view of the larger
German society as the "other," as opposed to identifying the minority
group as the "different" factor. The accessibility of film has incredible
consequence in the spreading of the stereotypes or understandings it
perpetuates. Thus, looking at the messages being broadcast by an

entire industry is necessary in order to understand the national climate

for immigrants in Germany.
Stereotyping is a way in which people can group like-individuals
in order to make quick decisions on how to interact with that type of
person. When referring to a group it is much easier to make broad
assumptions and generalizations, however this means that when a
person is associated with a particular stereotype they are labeled with
generalized characteristics of the group and their individual identity is
lost. In this way, stereotyping can be correlated to a form of
oppression in which a person who stereotypes is dehumanizing an
individual by classifying them as a generalized group instead of a
unique person. Through theater, individuals are able to tell their story
and share their internal narrative with others. This internal narrative
gives the artists audience a snapshot of the artists identity and is a
way for them to express the trials and triumphs they have faced as a
fellow human. This makes theater a wonderful way for individuals who
are underrepresented to not only express themselves and share their
story, but to explain to their audience why they are equal as humans.
In this way, theater becomes a powerful method for minority groups to
advocate for equal representation and opportunities in their

Artists or students from minorities groups in Germany lead an

immigrant vanguard in seeking more social inclusion by the society.
The idea behind this is a different type of social activism, also called
creative activism. (Want one definition of social activism from the
paper we read). Young German students direct musicals Yes We Can
and Wedding on the Street to examine racial issues in Germany.
Director of Maxim Gorki made a nexus for plays tackling issues like
immigration, race and assimilation in their theater so that they move
daily life of ethnic minorities to a public stage. They used stage
performance, a form of human medium, as their pathway to share
their perspectives. They are seeking an echo not only among the
minority group, but also in the entire society. Those efforts in selfexpression of ethnic minorities and promoting creative activism are
worth to gain much more insights about them.
Fashion is truly a human medium. It is created by, chosen, worn
and interpreted by people. It is not only an expression of the artist
that originally created it, but also the model that chooses to wear it
and the manner in which they chose to do so. To many the artistry of
clothing seems trivial and pointless, but clothing and fashion represent
a billion dollar, global enterprise that employs millions of people with
countless professional aspirations. The influence of fashion is not to be

overlooked. Like film and theatre, fashion is form of expression.

Expression that can be used for social activism, oppression through
stereotyping or self-identification. There is really no limit to what
fashion can be used for or how it can be perceived. This makes fashion
a very powerful tool and is the reason why it is so important to the
social structure of a community or country. Common attitudes towards
clothing create social narratives that can be hard to change or most
past. These attitudes also give people to portray themselves in a more
favorable manner, conversely it can cause people to give off an
impression that they may not have intended or that may not apply to
them. This can cause misinterpretations or representations of identity,
which perpetuates stereotypes and a leads to a lack of social progress.
III. Question
How do immigrant perspectives emerge in German cinema?
What differences can be seen between German-produced media in
comparison to those produced by the demographic in question? I have
defined that group of interest as primarily Turkish immigrants, without
specifying the generation. One of the things I find most fascinating is
even if ones family has been in the country for multiple generations,
an individual in Germany is never truly able to shake their migrant
background. It is this societally-manufactured separation that leads to
a further question: how is the concept of "othering" furthered or

diminished through these films? I would like to see whether the

creative choices involved in filmmaking from either side contribute to
further separating immigrants from larger society, and how this
division translates into public attitudes towards the others in their
IV. Cultural Sensitivity
While my experiences with immigration were not as much of a
culture shock as those I have chosen to investigate, I nonetheless have
some understanding of being an other in a community. My family is
from South Africa, and we have been first generation immigrants in
New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. That feeling of
separation from the general population is a constant among every such
transition. However, I have been incredibly fortunate to not encounter
language barriers, or economic discrimination. I will be approaching my
interviews from my own perspective as a woman of color from an
immigrant family, while being mindful of the privilege that I have as a
middle-class, American citizen.
V. Daily Schedule
I have yet to put together a comprehensive schedule of data
collection in Berlin and Jena, but I do have a tentative plan of action. I
hope to speak with Humboldt faculty and students in the Media Studies
program, to gauge trends they have observed and their own personal
reactions to portrayals of immigrants in film. For more of the personal

responses I also hope to interview citizens who might offer a critical

analysis, including recent and naturalized immigrants. An ideal
interview opportunity would be with the filmmakers themselves, which
might be exceptionally hard to organize. Other than that, I am
considering distributing a survey among the student population
regarding the number of films they have seen in the past year or so,
what kind of immigrant/minority representation they included, and
what were their personal reactions to these depictions. Regarding more
numbers focused research, Id like to be able to compare budgets,
publicity, reviews, and box office earnings for films produced by
immigrants to those that emerge from more mainstream sources. I
hope to also make time to see some of these movies for myself;
Manuela Mangold mentioned a list of recommendations that I will
follow up with her on. There are also various theater and film
exhibitions that are happening during the months that we will be in
Berlin that I hope to attend for that similar firsthand experience. For
example, we have already made contact with the Maxim Gorki Theater,
and I am hoping to access certain films of note, for example Berlin in
Berlin (1993), My Father the Guestworker (1995), and 40 Squaremetre
Germany (1986), which all represent different approaches to the
portrayal of Turkish immigrants in Germany and what that means for
both self-identification as well as how others see them.
VI. References

Burns, Rob. "The politics of cultural representation: TurkishGerman

encounters." German Politics 16.3 (2007): 358-378.
Burns, Rob. Turkish-German cinema: from cultural resistance to

cinema?. Continuum, 2006.

Fachinger, Petra. "A New Kind of Creative Energy: Yad Kara's Selam Berlin and Fatih
Akin's Kurz und Schmerzlos and Gegen die Wand." German Life and Letters 60.2
(2007): 243-260.
Gktrk, Deniz. Turkish Delight-German Fright: Migrant Identities in Transnational
Cinema. University of Oxford. Transnational Communities Programme,
Mennel, Barbara. "Bruce Lee in Kreuzberg and Scarface in Altona: Transnational
Auteurism and Ghettocentrism in Thomas Arslan's" Brothers and Sisters" and
Faith Akin's" Short Sharp Shock"." New German Critique (2002): 133-156.
Rings, Guido. "Blurring or shifting boundaries? Concepts of culture in TurkishGerman
migrant cinema." German as a foreign language (2008).
Trumpener, Katie. "On the Road: Labor, Ethnicity and the New New German Cinema
in the Age of the Multinational." Public Culture 2.1 (1989): 20-30.
Tun Cox, Aya. "Three generations of Turkish filmmakers in Germany: three different
narratives." Turkish Studies 12.1 (2011): 115-127.