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The race-time continuum: Race projection in DEFA genre cinema

Evan Torner, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is a book-length investigation of race representation in three different East German feature film genres produced by the Deutsche Film Aktiensgesellschaft (DEFA): the western (Indianerfilm), the musical, and the science-fiction film. The primary films examined include Osceola (1971), Meine Frau macht Musik (1958), Revue um Mitternacht (1962) and Der schweigende Stern (1960). I specifically articulate how each genre structures a temporality around race politics that tells us more about unique East German conceptions of whiteness, non-whites' role in society and "progress" than it tells us about the objectives of international and interracial solidarity espoused by the state. In the introduction, I discuss the relevant foundations of this study, including the various discourses one must mobilize to explain East German racism and to frame DEFA cinema from a contemporary perspective. In Chapter I, I posit some theories of race and genre that show their historical linkages with regard to film. Chapter II is a historical overview of interactions between East Germany, DEFA cinema and the Global South. Chapter III focuses on the way the western film Osceola views 1830s American racism within a 1970s Marxist-Leninist paradigm that elides opportunities for its Cuban co-production partner or the anti-racist history of the Seminoles to speak. Chapter IV looks at the phenomenon of the musical in East Germany in terms of its production of East German whiteness, as theorized by film theorist Richard Dyer. Chapter V describes science-fiction film Der schweigende Stern in terms of its accomplishment as the first multiracial space crew seen on television or film and the problematic race hierarchies that nevertheless underpin the final product. The conclusion deals with the very notion of "progress," especially with regard to racial equality, and looks at recent German cinema as a site where the discussion initiated by this dissertation might continue.

Subject Area

Germanic literature|Ethnic studies|Film studies

Recommended Citation

Torner, Evan, "The race-time continuum: Race projection in DEFA genre cinema" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589196.