Race Under Reconstruction in German Cinema investigates postwar racial formations via a pivotal West German film by one of the most popular and prolific directors of the era. The release of Robert Stemmle's Toxi (1952) coincided with the enrolment in West German schools of the first five hundred Afro-German children fathered by African-American occupation soldiers. The didactic plot traces the ideological conflicts that arise among members of a patrician family when they encounter an Afro-German child seeking adoption, herein broaching issues of integration at a time when the American civil rights movement was gaining momentum and encountering violent resistance.
Perceptions of 'Blackness' in Toxi demonstrate continuities with those prevailing in Wilhelmine Germany, but also signal the influence of American social science discourse and tropes originating in icons of American popular culture, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, Birth of a Nation, and several Shirley Temple films. By applying a Cultural Studies approach to individual film sequences, publicity photos, and press reviews, Angelica Fenner relates West German discourses around race and integration to emerging economic and political anxieties, class antagonism, and the reinstatement of conventional gender roles.
The film Toxi is now available on DVD from the DEFA Film Library.
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Angelica Fenner is an associate professor in the Cinema Studies Institute at Innis College and in the German Department of St. Michael's College, University of Toronto.Review:
‘Race under Construction in German Cinema constitutes a sophisticated and thorough contribution to the field of German Cinema studies and critical race theory in German studies... It opens new pathways to conceptualizing the categories of the national and transnational, the social and the cinematic, the psychoanalytic and the formal.’ (Barbara Mennel German Studies Review; vol 35:02:2012)
‘An enlightening and thought-provoking close reading of German film maker Robert Stemmle’s Toxi... Angelica Fenner brilliantly captures how the Federal Republic dealt with ‘race problem” as it sought to assimilate into a new world order that insisted on democracy and racial tolerance.’ (Antoinette Winstead Quarterly Review of Film and Video, vol 29:02:2012)
‘Race under Construction is an intriguing, even bold effort to read an entire era and its concerns through a single text.’ (Jaimey Fisher Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies vol 50:02:2014)
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