Dear Bless Amada, you learned German at the age of ten and today you play at the Burgtheater in Vienna, the Olympus of German spoken theater. What does that mean to you? Some say Olympus, others the final destination. I don't mean this in a disrespectful way, but many actors base their entire career on getting there. For me, it's a station that I'm happy to leave behind after two years. But yeah, it felt good to achieve that.
You first did an apprenticeship as a craftsman, how did you get into acting? The desire came early, already in Togo, where I grew up. I was watching a crime thriller on television and the actress playing the detective impressed me with a scene full of desperation, which completely fascinated me at the time. I wanted to be able to do that too. My father was already living in Germany as a kitchen helper at the time, so I came to him at the age of ten and did my secondary school leaving certificate here. Germany was not the paradise that Togo had made it appear to be.
To what extent? I was overwhelmed by this asphalt world after spending my childhood on red earth. What bothered me most was that I couldn't haggle in the supermarket like I was used to. I trained as an electronics technician for building technology, but broke it off to go on auditions.
Right at the renowned Otto Falckenberg School in Munich? Exactly, that was a tip from my German step-grandma and my best friend's mother. I was well prepared, but had no idea about the profession. My monologues from Hamlet, Othello and Mephistopheles and a self-written scene were well received. It worked the first time.
You were 20 back then, how were you able to internalize the new language so much in just a few years. I have a talent for languages. I had no choice, my stepmother only knew German and I used television as a language course. In three years I could speak German without an accent.
Many actors and actresses with a migrant background are annoyed by their role offers. German Turks are subscribed to clan crooks, and a colleague of Iranian origin once lost her temper when her role in the shooting break was called “Burka Woman 2”. Do you know anything similar? There are many offers where I would like to ask those responsible for broadcasting what they were thinking. Of course I rejected a lot of things. I don't want to reproduce clichés that I actually want to combat. Film is supposed to do the opposite, but unfortunately there are requests like this all the time.
Some things are “well-intentioned,” but do they cement role models? I can’t imagine well-intentioned racism. That's why it would make sense if German directors or screenwriters who imagine roles from other cultural groups would bring in someone who knows what they're doing. There has to be a context for a role to work outside of prejudice.
There have recently been debates about how Africa and especially colonial history is told in German productions. There are very good productions, such as the film “Borga”, in which Eugene Boateng plays the main role. I felt totally recognized then. But most other films are made by white people who think their judgment is enough. As a director I would strive for authenticity, I don't understand why so few people try.
Black politicians in Germany complain that they are often reduced to racism issues. Do you understand the objection? Very well indeed. I like to talk about it when there is a reason like in this conversation. But you don't want to be reduced to that. I would like white people to not constantly talk to me about racism, but to other white people. Strictly speaking, racism is white people's problem, not mine. You make it mine. I also don't want to talk about why I play this or that role even though I'm black.
How important is the function of the theater, where actors and actresses are increasingly being cast regardless of gender and origin? As long as we talk about it as a special feature, it is not good. Nevertheless, theater is moving forward in this regard, playing with these attributions and breaking with images. That has actually always been the task of theater.
Whether it's the Black Cleopatra in Jada Pink Smith's Netflix documentary or the Black Queen of England in Brigderton, social media is always flooded with hate comments. Absurd and bad.
An argument that can often be read in the comment columns: Would you be OK if a bio-pic about black personalities from history were cast with non-black actors? Phew, what can you say to that?
I liked this one comment I read: You made Jesus a white man too. (bursts out laughing) Great!
But where is the limit? Should, for example, only gay people be cast as gay characters in films? I understand the desire of marginalized groups to have their own say and to be able to tell their own stories. As an actor, I see this differently, which is why I find the job so exciting, being able to immerse myself in other worlds, realities and characters. I see both sides, the solution is as always: empathy.
You star in “Angels in America,” a play about homosexuals. Do you have to be homosexual to do that? No, there are too many cliché portrayals that reproduce certain mannerisms that only a gay person is allowed to have. Personally, I'm not a drag queen, but I still play it. As an actor, I have to be allowed to do that, that's what makes my job. But I am aware of how sensitively I have to approach this.
Do you understand the anger of people of short stature when Hugh Grant plays a dwarf and is digitally shrunk? I can understand that. The problem would probably be solved if actors of short stature were more often cast as lawyers or lovers or mafia godfathers. Then we wouldn't have these debates at all.
Now on Sunday the new “Polizeiruf 110” comes from Munich, which makes fun of the woke debate. You play a black inspector who is called into an investigation in the left-wing university environment for quota reasons. It was a brave experiment because you can make so many mistakes. The author of “Polizeiruf” told me in advance that I should report immediately if I found something difficult. I read the book and loved it - because it approaches it with so much humor.
What do you personally think when a former Green party member like Boris Palmer comments on a train advert that features a black man: “What kind of society is that supposed to portray?” Oh dear… (laughs loudly). What's so clever about this police call is that it manages to depict these grotesques from everyday German life - in that fine line between satire and seriousness. Also quite offensive.
A German football manager has lost his job because he used the term “quota black” in private chats. Was that appropriate? Anyone who hires people just because of their minority background, without them having the qualifications, feeds such prejudices. Diversity should not be above everything. Otherwise we will remain role models. I don't want to get a job just because I'm black. Germans tend to implement diversity in the same way that they, as Germans, do other things: in a planned manner. A black person has to go there, a queer person there, a Muslim woman there, but please with a headscarf. At the same time, this is happening for good reason, to make up for the fact that we have been ignored for a long time and denied equal opportunities. In England, such debates have not existed for a long time because it has long been normal.
Did you ever feel like you were being cast for diversity reasons? Yes, in the beginning. But drama school protected me from that, for which I am grateful. The feeling of being wanted is wonderful, but it remains stale if there is no belief in my abilities behind it.
To what extent have experiences of racism changed you? Hardly. Although I was hardly receptive to it as a child because my father never told me that there was such a thing as racism, my sensitivity was nevertheless greatly increased. Sometimes it's worth moving on and not giving room to micro-aggressions that have a racist character. If he's having a bad day, not my problem. But even small mosquito bites that are ignored can burn. Ultimately, I decide how much space I want to give it.
The renaming of Mohrenstrasse has been debated in Berlin for years. Does this affect you? Difficult to answer. I can understand the idea that leftists want to get rid of such old terms and do everything right. But I don't feel addressed when a street is named after "Mohren". I can't define whether that has something to do with me. In any case, it's something different than the "N-word". I think The white people should clarify for themselves whether they want to continue to have this term in their reality, it has more to do with them. For me it is irrelevant.
Are you actually going to stay on “police call”? Good question. The figure is now established in the police call cosmos. The rest is no longer in my hands.
Would you like to?Sure, I almost didn't get this role. I sent out a casting band and never heard anything back - and actually wrote it off. Then they got in touch after six months and invited me to the casting. In a personal conversation, it was clear to the director that I had to do it. Then I thought to myself: What is meant for you, Bless, will not be taken away from you. God intended this role for me.
Broadcast information: “Polizeiruf München: Little Boxes” on Sunday, September 17, 2023, 8:15 p.m. on Erste – and in the ARD media library