Around three years ago, I first heard through a mutual acquaintance, that a German guy named Timo Kiesel was interested in doing a film project about Native stereotypes. While not skeptical, though knowing nothing about him (and the mutual friend wouldn’t have passed the message along if he was sketchy), Timo’s motivation and aim was my concern. Understanding the issues? Honesty? Trustworthiness?
Since I’ve been in Germany, my work is out there such as in ICTMN or my website, and I’d been contacted before by German studios or individuals seeking “authenticity” for their productions, but almost all of which turned out to be deliberately ignorant because they rejected historical accuracy (even in documentaries) in favor of stereotypical Indians and stories that were “fun for German audiences” but misrepresentative or are outright offensive in content. One example? In 2013, “The White Comanche” (very loosely interpreted to tabloid level) documentary (originally titled “The White Squaw”, I’m dead serious), I was asked to be a consultant under contract.
Very enthusiastically, the representative assured me the writers and producers wanted to be accurate, such as having natives play natives, and I began working for those aims. Yet as the days passed, the contract never came, the script and story became more eccentric and misrepresentative of known facts, and the rep finally admitted they had been contacted by hobbyists or clubs which acts as “Indians” willing to work and provide equipment and a setting just to be in the production. I was never paid for the work I’d done, they still owe me, and the production itself ended up being horrendously demeaning to the Comanche people. I’m looking at you Bilderfest.
So, I was deeply wary of anyone seeking me out for consulting on a documentary anymore. I told our mutual friend to have Timo contact me directly, no intermediaries, but due to schedules or whatever, I didn’t hear from him again for nearly a year. During the time, working as I still did in a small local restaurant to support myself, doing supplementary workshops on native themes, going to university full-time and as a single parent of a special needs teen, I had little time anyway. Through 2014, separately, we continued our research, gathering experiences and observations, even filming material for the eventual product. I continued writing on the themes, and expanding my knowledge, contacts and awareness through native organizations, communities, relatives and friends, and Timo did the same in his own networks and contacts throughout Europe, while working as a trainer and consultant at the anti-racism organization, glokal e.V.
In February 2015, we met for the first time and had a productive conversation. The proverbial wheels were set in motion, plans were laid and built upon, yet as ever, life had unexpected twists and turns. As a foreigner in Germany, despite having been here for many years, with the new, nearly overwhelming influx of refugees and migrants, in turn requiring an increase of workers in the immigration office who seemed not to care to follow regulations in place or read one’s case file, I had great difficulties as a self-employed person with a teenage brown son, of which Germany wished less of. So in needing to increase my income, though I had always and still met base requirements, I needed to work more hours while still attending university, all of which took away from time and energy for the production. The stress of having been homeless at one point due to the difficulties of finding an apartment as a “less acceptable” foreigner, the needs of my son whose sole carer I was, possible deportation for him or myself included… PLUS pressures at a job that only cared about production, and little about one personally, my health began to greatly suffer. A change was needed…and it came in an unexpected form.
In April 2016, I was able to change jobs to work part-time, which would allow more time for the production, my studies and homelife. Yet an on-the-job accident in May finished that position. I lost part of a finger, which subsequently caused greatly reduced capacity in my left hand, and which I still have problems with. As a writer especially, eternal hand pain and not being able to use part of it, and then of course, now one finger is almost an inch shorter than it was? Well, there’s a learning curve. But! this did allow me to spend more time on the project, and as Timo had less for personal reasons, I could continue more strongly on reaching the goals we’d set for ourselves and the film.
All the while, especially due to the beloved nature of Winnetou, misinformation and misinterpretation of our theme and aims, we continued to receive criticism and unpleasant attacks because we are challenging institutional racism, continuing colonialism and white supremacy/privilege through a symbol many insist is harmless. From the Native side, though much smaller but still personally affective, there were some natives who profit from being the stereotypes, such as in the new Winnetou films, who have vehemently attacked me especially. I am not referring to those Natives who visit regularly and voluntarily share part of their culture or themselves with German peoples. Such ones are trying to help promote cultural understanding, and this is an opportunity to increase mutual respect through accurate knowledge and thus reduce cultural appropriation or native beliefs misuse.
Timo and I have worked for years now bringing this documentary together. Through great personal adversity but also many of the issues other filmmakers and artists, especially on social and historical justice, have and continue to endure when challenging the established patriarchy and racist systems. For most of the past 5 years I’ve been forced to work up to 80 hours a week just to survive, having dealt with unscrupulous bureaucracy at times and flat out racism all too many times, but our film’s message and the need for it in German society is one I believe in 100% for all of us. Timo has his own very demanding full-time profession working in an anti-racism organization, and two young children and life’s challenges. We work together, despite differing styles and personalites, because he too believes in it our documentary’s shared message absolutely. We want the world to be a better place for our children, for everyone’s children, and ending stereotyping, racism, and discrimination is imperative for a better future. Decolonization is imperative for the survival of our world and all its denizens.
Everything we’ve done thus far has been out of pocket: traveling for interviews, equipment, time away from other jobs that could earn funds, advertisement costs or in Timo’s case, working to pay into our business account to cover these costs. Yet the most needed are ahead in post-production, promotion, distribution etc. and listed at our film website and also the crowdfunding campaign page, are exactly what contributed funds will be used for. Make no mistake, however: we will finish our documentary no matter if we reach this crowdfunding goal or not, not matter the intimidation and discouragement we continue to receive from those who want to keep the status quo. Despite recent mockery in our inbox that our campaign was failing because we were not being the “Indians” Germans want, what we’re doing is not to keep certain people in their comfort zones of privilege, but provide Native voices against the stereotypes, (re)educate about the harmful nature of misrepresentation and continuing colonialism/racism and improve the equality of life and living for all, not just cater to some.
Thanks for reading! If you can help support us by sharing and/or contributing, whatever you can do is greatly appreciated. Please pass the information to your universities, schools, workplaces, colleagues, friends and family, and make our final official week in this campaign the best. We’re also still available for interviews, workshop or for any questions you might have. IndieGoGo Campaign
- Website https://forgetwinnetou.com/
- Facebook https://www.facebook.com/forgetwinnetoufilm/
- Twitter https://twitter.com/forgetwinnetou/
- Instagram https://www.instagram.com/forgetwinnetou/
- IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6494700/?ref_=nv_sr_1
- March 23, 2017 Ich bin nur dem Nein begegnet in print & online at Der Freitag. In Deutsch. (Interview)
- March 14, 2017 Projekt Forget Winnetou! Gegen Klischees die Ureinwohner at Deutschlandradio Kultur. In Deutsch. (Article & Radio Show) podcast available.
- March 3, 2017 Red Haircrow in print & online at Süddeutsche Zeitung. In Deutsch. (Interview)