35 years of "Otto – the film": How racist is the 80s mess?

35 years ago “Otto – the film” came to the cinema. Racist terms for a black man also come up in the idiot comedy. An example of how much humor changes. A search for traces.

“Otto – the film” is one of the most successful German cinema productions, along with “Der Schuh des Manitu”, “Fack ju Göhte” or “Honig im Kopf”. According to the film company, the comedy with Otto Waalkes in the 80s totaled almost 15 million cinema-goers in East and West. The theatrical release in the Federal Republic was on July 18, 1985 and in the GDR a year later – on July 24, 1986. Many people who watch the 35-year-old strip flinch in some places because of the choice of words. The scenes with a black man in uniform in particular show how much humor is changing.

“Aaaah, black feet!” Exclaims a soldier portrayed by Günther Kaufmann – and then uses Otto’s question to use the racist name for black people, which is now described as “N-word”. Otto also used the word before and explained to the man: “Black head, black belly, black feet.” Otto takes off his socks to show his dirty feet, which Kaufmann’s figure laughingly understands and just asks: “You negro? “

In some cinemas, the film will be shown again from July 30th to match the anniversary. It is also available for streaming services, but is currently only included in the subscription for Netflix. A spokesman for Netflix for Germany, Austria and Switzerland said when asked by dpa that the film had hardly been viewed recently and was anyway going to end at the end of July due to the expiring license.

The city magazine “tip Berlin” recently commented that it was disturbing to watch the Otto film today: “Black people are defamed in several places in the film. The N-word falls and there is a whole scene in which Otto, together with a dark-skinned US soldier (played by Günther Kaufmann), carries out a trickery and the Afro-American GI, whom he also calls “Mr. Bimbo”, an older lady than Slaves sold. “

The production company Rialto Film in Berlin opposes this view: “The scene in” Otto – the film “, in which Otto and a dark-skinned GI try to sell a slave to an incredibly foolish person, may be a very early example of anti- racist comedy in German film, ”says Managing Director Matthias Wendlandt when asked by the German Press Agency.

“The screenwriters Bernd Eilert, Robert Gernhardt and Pit Knorr, as members of the Neue Frankfurter Schule and founders of the satirical magazine” Titanic “, are above suspicion of racist attitudes, just like Otto Waalkes himself.” Slave buyer ”is“ a clearly recognizable satire ”.

Rialto Film: “Possibly a very early example of anti-racist comedy in German film”

“Anyone who sees this grotesque scene as racist obviously has a prejudice that believes that just naming certain terms justifies it without the intention of even considering the context and any other interpretation.”

The association Initiative Black People in Germany is against this. “That even with such obvious racist content is still denied or an anti-racist intention is” conjured up “is symptomatic of the lack of understanding of racism,” spokesman Tahir Della told dpa.

This shows how the racism debate is now dividing society. Opinions are usually quite unforgiving. On the one hand there is an appeal to listen more to those affected by racism, to let them have their say at all and to simply dispense with controversial terms; on the other hand, there is an attitude among many whites that the serious accusation of racism is handled too lightly.

At one point racism is even mentioned in “Otto – the film”. When Otto laughs in a rock bar at the joke question “How does an Eskimo pee?” And ice cubes falling out of his pants, he is told: “Ancient and also racist.” Many of the gags in the film were already warmed up from old stage shows.

Tahir Della says: “From my point of view, when dealing with or dismantling racist conditions, the area of ​​humor must also be considered. When discriminatory humor is normalized, we need not be surprised if things get worse. And traditions that discriminate, hurt and exclude are not worth preserving. ”

Screenwriter Bernd Eilert (71) canceled an inquiry about his classic Otto film. According to his spokeswoman, Otto himself is also currently refusing any interview. The 71-year-old was too busy to shoot “Catweazle” under corona conditions. The film about the quirky magician, among others with Julius Weckauf (“The boy has to be in the fresh air”), is supposed to come to the cinema at Christmas.

Interesting and probably symptomatic of the whole issue of racism: 35 years ago, it was simply mostly none in the media. The German Press Agency, for example, wrote in July 1985 that it was “a subtle comedy in the Otto style”: “The film tells the story of a young man who comes from the North Sea in an amusing and relaxed manner for an hour and a half literally lands in the South Pacific. The main protagonist is troubled by one worry after another, because as often as he clears a problem out of the way, three new ones grow back (…) the East Frisian slit-ear, like a modern court jester, takes on everything that today’s society considers to be negative manifestations has to offer. “[Gregor Tholl]

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