Recently, posters of two jeering old men appeared around Berlin. They were advertisements for Schlosspark Theater’s production of Herb Gardner’s I’m Not Rappaport, a comedy about two old guys hanging out in Central Park—one of them Jewish, the other black. Diddi Hallervorden plays Nat, the white guy, and Joachim Bliese plays Midge, which is a big deal because Joachim is white and wears blackface for the role. In an attempt to independently verify just how racist this was (spoiler: very), we interviewed Tahir Della, a board member of Initiative Schwarzer Deutscher, a support group for blacks in Germany that was one of the first organizations to denounce the play.
VICE: Does it seem odd to you that they couldn’t find a single black actor in Berlin who was qualified for this role?
Tahir Della: There is a group of black actors in Berlin called Label Noir. They had a nationwide casting recently with tons of people auditioning. It’s impossible that the theater couldn’t find someone. The company claims that it wasn’t their intention to be racist.
I think it’s all about the power of defining racism. The theater and its apologists claim to have that power. We don’t think so. They’re painting us as an anonymous internet mob. The play has been shown many times with white actors in blackface, which is apparently totally acceptable in German theaters.
That’s not true either. There has been resistance all along. The prestigious Deutsches Theater had to actually cancel Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, because Norris forbade them from casting white actors in black roles. The theater says criticizing the play is ridiculous because it’s all about human understanding—how these guys become friends even though they come from different backgrounds.
This isn’t about the play or the theater or the actors. We’re criticizing the fact that black actors are discriminated against in Germany. And that is exactly what they’re admitting when they say that there aren’t enough parts and they can’t employ blacks because of that. They also say that if they aren’t allowed to use blackface on white actors, classic plays like Othello can’t be produced any longer.
We want black actors to be able to play black roles. At this point, a white actor can play every part there is, while black people can’t even play themselves. One of the reasons blackface occurred in the US was to keep black actors away from the stage, and that is exactly what’s happening here.