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From Kampala to Essen to Hollywood

You might have recently heard about Florence Kasumba from her critically acclaimed role as "Ayo" a leading warrior of Wakanda's all-female fighting squad in Marvel’s Black Panther (2018). Ms. Kasumba, born in Kampala (Uganda), grew up in the Ruhr city of Essen (Germany) where she attended school. She currently lives in Berlin. She landed her first professional film role while still a student of music, dance and drama in Tilburg (Netherlands). With occasional stints in renowned musicals such as Lion King and theatre productions such as Westside Story and Aida, Ms. Kasumba has also appeared in a few T.V shows and films in Germany. But her most prominent roles have been in Hollywood blockbusters like Captain America: Civil War (2016), Wonder Woman (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018).

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios (Kasumba in "Black Panther")

"German T.V not ready for Black lead"

Seven years ago in an interview with a popular German tabloid, Ms. Kasumba made a statement that had been a public secret for long. Asked whether she could envision playing the leading role as police superintendent in Germany's oldest running prime time T.V. detective series Tatort she responded; "I don't think German T.V is ready for a black lead yet." Even though 2011 is a time in which we were well into the first decade of the 21st century, it has still been quite rare to find Black, let alone ethnic minorities getting 'normal' roles (e.g. police superintendent, doctor, CEO of a bank/company etc.) in the German film industry. And when they do take on leading roles, their background often has to be "explained" or accounted for in the film setting. This might not have been much of an issue if the calls for assimilation within German society were followed by general acceptance that indeed (assimilated) people with Migrationshintergrund (as they are referred to here) were considered Germans that no longer needed to be asked the age-old question; "But where are you originally from?"

Photo Credit: theinsyder.com (Kasumba in "Wonder Woman")

2018: Glass ceiling broken?

I think one can speak of a glass ceiling when referring to barriers facing members of minorities in the German film industry and show business. That being said, I can almost hear certain voices at the back of my mind screaming, "But Germany isn't England or France or even the United States! Those countries have a longer history of colonialism (and slavery) than Germany does! And they certainly have larger numbers of people of African descent" This is an argument that always comes up in defence of the near-absence of black and other members of minority groups on German T.V and cinema. Such arguments digress from the real issue. For instance, there is a deep desire for me and my children and (children of) all minorities to see people that look like me (like us) play un-stereotypical roles on T.V. and film. Certain cities like Cologne and the Ruhr Region are multi-cultural (read: multi-racial) yet very often this diversity is not showcased in traditional T.V. series like Tatort.

Side note: After Ms. Kasumba's recent critical acclaim in hollywood the glass ceiling cracked some more for black and other minority actors/actresses in Germany. What seemed impossible in 2011 is now reality. Ms. Kasumba will play chief superintendent in Tatort (Göttingen) alongside Maria Furtwängler - making her the first Black actress to take on the role. Word has it that filming is already in progress. I can't wait to see her kick-ass and sassy demeanour on Tatort.

Photo credit: NDR/obs (Kasumba and Furtwängler on the set of Tatort-Göttingen)

Cover photo copyright: Florence Kasumba (https://www.florencekasumba.com)

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