Black Lives in Germany

Film + Talk | March 8-11, 2021


Made possible in part by the Goethe-Institut Boston and the UMass Arts Council


Watch the recording on FILMBOX, our Digital Teaching Archive.




A virtual discussion with director Branwen Okpako (UC Davis) about The Education of Auma Obama and her other films, representing 20 years of stories about Black German lives and experiences. Moderated by historian Tiffany N. Florvil (Univ. of NM). Hosted by curator Kevina King (UMass Amherst).


We are grateful to Branwen Okpako for her generous offer to make six of her films available to our viewers. The discussion will begin with her 2011 film The Education of Auma Obama, but audience members are welcome to  ask questions about Okpako's other films as well.


Branwen Okpako was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She studied film directing in Berlin, and her graduation film, Dirt for Dinner, won several international prizes. Her fiction feature Valley of the Innocent  premiered at TIFF and competed at FESPACO (Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou). The Education of Auma Obama won multiple awards, and the documentary-drama The Curse of Medea—a film about the late (East) German author Christa Wolf, featuring Sheri Hagenpremiered at the Berlin Int'l Film Festival. Okpako teaches at UC Davis and is currently completing Chibok Girls, a feature film based on the 2016 novel by Nigerian author Helon Habila about the mass abduction in northern Nigeria.


Tiffany N. Florvil is an Associate Professor of 20th-century European Women’s and Gender History at the University of New Mexico. She specializes in the histories of post-1945 Europe, the African/Black diaspora, social movements, feminism, Black internationalism, gender and sexuality, and emotions. Florvil has also coedited the volume, Rethinking Black German Studies: Approaches, Interventions and Histories. Her new book, Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement, offers the first full-length study of the history of the Black German movement of the 1980s to the 2000s.





The Education of Auma Obama


(Die Geschichte der Auma Obama, 2011, Germany, dir. Branwen Okpako, 80 min., color, doc., EN ST)

A captivating, intimate portrayal of the US president's Kenyan half-sister. Obama studied linguistics in Heidelberg, Germany, before enrolling in film school in Berlin, where she met director Okpako in the 1990s. In time, she moved back home to mentor a younger generation of politically- and socially-engaged Kenyans, whose aspirations are informed by their parents' experiences and whose ambition to forge a better future for their communities starts from the ground up.


As the Toronto International Film Festival noted, "Okpako has always been interested in questions of identity, affiliation and belonging. Although she frames her film as a biographical portrait of Obama, she goes much further, providing layered historical context and discussion of post-colonial African identity from a feminist perspective." This film won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Diaspora Documentary (2012), the Festival Founders Award for Best Documentary at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles (2012) and the Viewers' Choice Award at the Africa International Film Festival (2011).


Curse of Medea

(Fluch der Medea, 2014, Germany, dir. Branwen Okpako, 44 min., color, EN ST)

On January 27, 2010, Okpako visited the (East) German author Christa Wolf to discuss a film project based on Wolf's novel Medea: A Modern Retelling. Over tea, with the sound of planes landing at nearby Schönefeld airport, they talk about how she came to tell the story of Medea the immigrant, treated with suspicion in her host country, and are joined by the voices of Medea, Jason, Agameda, Glaucke and the passing of the East German era. This film premiered at the Berlinale in 2014.


Valley of the Innocent

(Tal der Ahnungslosen, 2003, Germany, dir. & script Branwen Okpako, 85 min., color, EN ST)

Shortly before her 40th birthday, detective Eva Meyer revisits the Dresden orphanage where she grew up, intent on discovering her identity in this noir thriller. Stasi archives eventually reveal the story, and her family's plot to hide her birth becomes a metaphor for things suppressed in Germany. Finding and confronting her mother sets off a chain of unintended consequences.


Dirt for Dinner

(Dreckfresser, 2000, Germany, dir. Branwen Okpako, 73 min., color, doc., EN ST)

In 1992, shortly after a series of racist murders and attacks against immigrants in former East Germany, posters throughout the country began featuring the smiling face of Sam Meffire, a young Afro-German police officer in the formerly East German state of Saxony. Meffire became well-known and a symbol of tolerance in Germany; but in 1994, he suddenly left the force and, two years later, was sentenced to ten years in prison for extortion and armed robbery.


Through interviews with Meffire, his mother and others, Okpako skillfully tells the story and draws a portrait of this young man who was both befriended and exploited by people in power. This film won multiple awards, including: The German Newcomer Award for Best Documentary Film (2000), IG MEdia Award at DOK-Leipzig (2000), Best Newcomer Film Award at the Duisburg Film Week, "The Young Lion" Documentary Award of the Bavarian State Government (2001) and Best Graduation Film at the See Docs in Dubrovnik Festival (2001).



(1999, Germany, dir. & script Branwen Okpako, 35 min., color, EN ST)

Hans loves Fatima and he will do anything to make her feel at home in Germany. Fatima loves Hans and she will do anything to feel at home with him. This short student film was shot on 35mm.



(1997, Germany, dir. Branwen Okpako, 11 min., b/w, EN ST)

Landing is the story of a young Afro-German woman who wakes up to discover that she is invisible... something she has always dreamed of being. Screened at the Berlinale in 2007.



... in our Black Lives in Germany: Resilience, Art and Hope film festival, October 2020 - April 2021.





please email curator Kevina King


This event is made possible in part by the Goethe-Institut Boston and the UMass Arts Council. Other co-sponsors at UMass Amherst include Film Studies; German & Scandinavian Studies; Music & Dance; and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies.

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