Birth of Migrant Cinema



Identity & Belonging Media & Culture

At the beginning of the 1980s, a so-called migrant cinema emerges in Germany. With the release of In der Fremde (In Foreign Parts), Gölge- Zukunft der Liebe (Gölge- Future of Love), and 40qm Deutschland (40 Square Meters of Germany) the first films by directors with histories of migration made their way into German cinemas.

Just about five years after the release of Angst essen Seele auf (Souls eat up fear) [see: Angst essen Seele auf (Souls eat up fear), 1974] and Shirin’s Hochzeit (Shirin’s Wedding), both films made by German directors dealing with the lifeworlds of migrants, the film Gölge- Zukunft der Liebe (Gölge- Future of Love) by Sofoklis Adamidis and Sema Poyraz appeared in 1980. The film tells the story of the student Gölge, who grows up as the daughter of Turkish migrants in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg in the 1970s. Her confrontation with her sexuality and the challenges of growing up amidst the tension between society and home are the film’s central themes. German (majority) audiences were thus confronted with a thus far unknown glimpse into the life of a growing young woman with migration in her biography.

With his 1975 film In der Fremde (In Foreign Parts), the Iranian director Sohrab Shahid Saless, who lived in West Germany as a political activist, was the first to explore the living circumstances of West Germany’s so-called guest workers. The film tells the story of a Turkish laborer in West Berlin who works in a factory and lives in a run-down communal flat in Kreuzberg. Between the monotony of work and silent evenings at home, his routine is marked by the social isolation, loneliness and radical alienation that defines much of the daily life of migrant laborers “in foreign parts”.

In 1985, the film 40qm Deutschland (40 Square Meters of Germany) by Tevfik Başer was released, going on to become the best known example of this genre. The film deals with the marriage of Turna and Dursun, who lives as a laborer in Germany. After their wedding, the husband confines his wife to their flat, in order to protect her from the allegedly alien and overly liberal society outside. Although the film received numerous awards following its release, it was also criticized by migrants who felt the need to defend themselves against its clichéd depictions: the image of the Turkish man as a domineering, egotistical patriarch who treats his wife simply as a sex-object or property and thus locks her up could also serve to reinforce cultural stereotypes and prejudices.

According to Deniz Göktürk, the reasons for German migrant cinema’s reproduction of such stereotypes have to do with the selection criteria by which funds for producing films were dispensed in Germany in the early 1980s. At the time, almost exclusively those films scripts would be selected that reproduced and thematized traditional views and cultural clichés, in order to better conform to audience expectations. This would change, at the latest, with the emergence of the New German Cinema [see: New German Cinema, 1998].