German society is diverse. Not only are people of different genders, they belong to religious communities or not, they look different: they are tall, short, fat, thin, light-skinned or dark, have curly hair, straight hair or no hair at all. This is nothing new? But anyone who watches German television might think so. Because the main protagonists there are still predominantly male and white.
This is shown, among other things, by studies by the Institute for Media Research at the University of Rostock, which were funded by the MaLisa Foundation and the four major public and private TV broadcasting groups in Germany. Accordingly, women are underrepresented, as are people with a migration background or with disabilities. And: “While they are estimated to make up around ten percent of the population, only around five percent of the protagonists or main actors can be read as black or people of color,” it says.
That has to change, Bradley Iyamu is working on that. The Hamburger founded the acting agency Black Universe Agency five years ago. He now represents around 40 actors – “mostly people of colour”, as he says. “As sad as it is, it was unfortunately necessary to found this agency.” Because although it is two decades ago that Hollywood actress Halle Berry won the first Oscar as an African-American leading actress and in the oldest German crime series, the “Tatort”, Florence Kasumba has been identified as Anaïs Schmitz in Göttingen for three years now, little seems to have happened in the industry.
“Black actors are still mostly offered cliché roles – men are supposed to play drug dealers or refugees, the women prostitutes or cleaning ladies,” says Iyamu. “We want to change that. We want storylines behind the characters, characters that develop. Our actors should be able to show what they’re made of – in interesting leading roles where the focus isn’t just on their looks.”
It doesn’t have to be the so-called “colorblind casting” like in the Netflix series “Bridgerton”.
Some of his clients have gotten dusty in their previous agencies as if they weren’t willing to accept clichéd roles at any time and earn commissions, says Iyamu. “We push our actors, get them good castings and give them the freedom to choose whether they want to do a job or not. Nobody has to justify a rejection.”
In his opinion, productions in the USA or in France, England and Scandinavia already show more diversity than in Germany. “In Germany, it’s difficult to cast PoC in leading roles in a normal way.” rely more on streaming services. “The international productions simply reflect the reality of life of young people better.”
Iyamu, who himself comes from the music business and as a director already brought a feature film to the big screen with “THU.G – True Hustler Under God” in 2016, has a passion for the local film industry: “Germany has so much to tell, but if we are excluded , there are always the same stories to be seen.” He therefore also sees his job as head of the agency as a political mission: “We have to stick together, raise our voice and stand up for ourselves.” Because people of color predominate in his agency, more attention is paid to the individual properties looked at. But for something to really change, diversity is also necessary behind the camera: “It starts with the screenwriters.”
His agency is doing well and he receives inquiries every day. “It shows me that we are on the right track. It used to be very difficult, now it’s just difficult.” He receives countless applications every day. The prerequisite for including someone in his file is good work samples in the form of show reels, an interesting CV and, in the case of young actors, “talent, desire and staying power”.
And so at Black Universe Agency there are children who have already taken part in the musical “The Lion King” and want to further professionalize their passion, but also established actresses such as Liz Baffoe, known from “Lindenstraße”, or Prince Kuhlmann, who, for example was featured in “4 Blocks”.
Bradley Iyamu sees himself as the head of a large agency family and promotes personal contact between his artists. He is convinced: “If one of us gets a role, it will help us all.” The Black Universe Agency is so unique in Germany. Iyamu is both proud and combative at the same time: “It’s actually sad that we have to exist at all, but ultimately television pictures create reality. That is why our work is important.”