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13 - Representations of Germans and What Germans Represent: American Film Images and Public Perceptions in the Postwar Era

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2013

David E. Barclay
Affiliation:
Kalamazoo College, Michigan
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Summary

introduction

The movie “Schindler's List” was a Hollywood sensation. Holocaust survivors, in particular, claimed that the film evoked the reality of their experience. What critics and audiences did not say, however, was that this film was one of a handful in American media history that presented a positive portrayal of a German. Oskar Schindler is, to be sure, a self-centered, smug swindler, vaguely affiliated with the Nazi Party. But unlike the portrayal of most Germans in American film, his character did not carry the baggage of an entire package of stereotypes that accompanies German characters. In him we see a multidimensional character, and by the film's end, Schindler appears to us to be not just a German but a decent individual who struggles to do the right thing in the face of tremendous adversity.

Although this may appear to be an unremarkable achievement, it is a rarity in Hollywood cinematographic history. Prior to this film, no portrayal of Germany was complete without recourse to a series of stereotypes and damning stereotypes at that. We find that virtually all American images of Germans in popular postwar Hollywood films are negative; when a positive image appears, it is often coupled with a negative one. Germans are portrayed as bumbling Prussians with Teutonic rolls of fat and sprouting moustaches; they are monomaniacal mad scientists who engage in unscrupulous experimentation; they are Nazi monsters, sadistic dentists, terrorists, and seductive (but wicked) or blond (but ugly) vamps.

Type
Chapter
Information
Transatlantic Images and Perceptions
Germany and America since 1776
, pp. 285 - 308
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1997

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