ALM: The aim of this interview is to focus on Afro-German actors and theire experiences. As far as I know, you were born in Hamburg, but your biological parents are from Ghana. Do you feel more German or African and why?
JK: This is not an easy question. First, I feel like I am from Hamburg. This is the city I was born in. As well the most important thing about Hamburg is, that the people accept you as you are.You are seen as a German no matter wherever your roots lie. In my case, I grew up in a German family and not with my Ghanaian parents. So, I feel more German than Ghananian. But, with the years I developed a strong interest in Ghana . It started with interests in Ghanaian food. When I was teenager, I started having contact with my siblings living in Ghana;that also increased my interest. Getting to know them better and getting to know what is important to them. Even though, I have not been to Ghana yet, it is on my wishlist. But Germany is my home and I work hard in the public eye to show that we Afro-Germans are part of Germany too. If you look in the media, people do not know much about Afro-Germans. They do not see us as Germans in the media. We are always foreigner . That is why I work very hard to establish a new definition of the word “German”. I want a definition which includes us and not a definition that only fixates on the colour of our skin. It is getting better in the media, but it is still a long way to go. I believe that the people in Germany, are much more understanding and have accepted that fact long ago. Of course, you have some people who cannot get their head around that fact, but well…. like I said. It is a long way.
ALM: How close are to Ghana?
JK: Well, honestly, I am not that close yet. But I would love to be much closer to Ghana. Certainly, my family resides in Ghana and they are very important to me, but I have not had the opportunity to explore the country yet. I am looking forward to that experience and how it will impact me.
ALM: How did you become an actor? What was the reason why you wanted to become an actor
JK: I always wanted to become an actor since I was a young boy. I loved movies and TV shows. Stuff like Robin Hood, The A-Team, MacGyver, The Intouchables. I loved the gangster movies but the ones, in which the gangsters were that smart that they got away with everything. You know? The ones who were that charming that no one saw the “bad guy” in them. Or the old James Bond movies. I wanted to do the same. Getting away with stuff because I was that charming. Later, I played a bit in our school theatre and when I was on stage, I could feel the energy of the audience. This was when I knew I like that feeling. I wanted to entertain people. This feeling stuck in me ever since. I still love to get up every day and go to a set and work. I really love my job and I could not imagine doing anything else.
ALM: Is it difficult to be a black actor in Germany? If yes, why?
JK: Yes. It is difficult. But first, let me say it is difficult to be a working actor. Period. If you want to act and get paid for it, then you need to follow the rules of the business. And the business does not have opportunities for us all. But, in my opinion it is more difficult for “POC” actors since we are not seen as Germans. So, we do not get invited to castings. We only get invited if the character we audition for is written for a black person. Most of the time it is an African and very often a refugee. All the black persons that have lived in Germany over the history are never mentioned. In the industry they do not see “POC” as “normal” people. They believe they need to explain to the audience why this particular character is in the story and why they can speak German. Actors who do not look “typically” German, are often asked to speak with an accent while acting. So, I believe what is missing, is that stories which are told from a “POC” perspective. I think, the German school system is also a problem. Black-German history is not taught in schools; therefore, they do not know anything about black Germans. Therefore, the roles that we get offered are very limited and, in my opinion, more than for any other actors. But it is getting better since the importance of international stories are more visible than before. By that, I mean that the world is growing “smaller”. We watch a lot of American, French, Swedish, Scandinavian movies and if the German movies want to continue to matter in that world, they need to show different perspectives in their stories, and this will need to include Afro-Germans. Because I do not believe that you can only make stories for only a white audience. Me, personally, I do not like watching movies in which I do not see people like me, and I hardly watch them. To be completely honest, I do not watch movies or shows where there are no “POC” actors. It does not need to be “all-black”, but Asian, Indian etc need to be included in the story.
ALM: Have you ever dealt with racism in the German film industry and if yes, what can you say about the issue of racism?
JK: Well, I have never dealt with direct racism in the film industry and I do not believe that there are many racists in our industry, at least that is my hope, but I believe that discrimination exist in our industry, by not acknowledging black people as Germans and show them without any explanation, like why they are speaking German or how they got to Germany. I believe that it is absolutely necessary to show „POC“ characters without explaining in every movie and TV show that is made in Germany; excpet of few stories. I think, in our industry, they hold the opinion that viewers cannot accept „POC „characters as a leading character without any explanation, and I do not believe it so. But, even if that would be the case, at least the state TV has an obligation to show „POC“ characters as „normal“ and as a part of the German society, in order to integrate them in the media. Especially, in these times, it is very necessary that the public sees „People of Color“ as their neighbours and citizens and not as foreigners. Black people have been living in Germany for a long time. So, it should not be a surprise that there are Afro-Germans with all kinds of jobs and stories. This should be shown more on our TV shows and movies.
ALM: Who are your role models regarding acting and why?
JK: I do not have any role models per se, but I am inspired by a lot of different actors. I grew up with Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes and Jackie Chan movies, but at the same time I was inspired by Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington. Today, I love movies with Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson or Omari Hardwick. Why? Because they did what I wanted to do in acting. They played the parts of the hero and not the villain. They were the smooth and charming characters who saved the day. The reason why I wanted to become an actor. But, I also like actors like George Clooney, Viola Davis, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie etc. I do not mention any German actors, but that is not because they do not have an effect on me. Their impact was a different one. I love actors and works of Götz George, Til Schweiger, Katja Riemann or Jürgen Vogel, just to name a few of them. And even though, I really enjoy watching all of their work as acctors, but the stories that were told did not speak to me because the movies were not made for me, but for a white German audience that did not include me. Therefore, I was more inspired by British and American actors.
ALM: Which roles would you like to play? And why?
JK: I would love to play a role like James Bond, not the British agent, but maybe a German version of it. Like Tom Cruise did with the “Mission Impossible” movies. I like action movies with big emotions. I am a “physical” guy with big emotions. I guess that goes well together.
ALM: Is there anything you would like to address to the German viewer regarding your acting?
JK: Well, that is not an easy question. I would like if the German viewers like watching my movies, like what I am doing and keep on watching and demanding for me and “POC” actors like me. If the audience want more stories in which we take part, the studios have to tell more and different stories. Do not get me wrong, I want the German industry to continue with the projects they are doing now, but at the same time, I want them to give us the opportunity to tell the story from a different perspective. Our perspective, because you can tell a story over and over again, but it always will be different if you change the perspective.
ALM: What does acting mean to you?
JK: It is more than a job! Acting to me is… to be someone that I am not. To put myself in somebody else’s skin… To walk a mile in someone’s shoes. To tell a story to an audience and to entertain them, touch them, make them think. The greatest present to me is, when viewers come to me and tell me that the story and my performance touched them. That is the greatest gift. To be an actor is a calling. It is not just a job, it is what you are.
ALM: If you had 3 wishes free, what would that be ?
JK: Well, first I would love to speak all the languages in the world. Second, to be able to continue to work as an actor and to keep doing it, as long as my body allows it. Third, health, love and success to my family.
your answers show me that it was the right decision to pick you as one of my interview partners. Thank you so much for making time. I wish you all the best for your acting career. It was a pleasure. Thank you.
Ein Kommentar zu „JERRY KWARTENG – A GHANAIAN- GERMAN IN THE GERMAN FILM INDUSTRY“
Nice interfew, wish HIM all The best and hope he Will get a action movie role of his live. Big hug from The Netherlands , Proud of you mate, jeroen paul van aarst (jp)