DEFA Film Library: Hidden Figures

The public film festival takes place in tandem with DEFA Film Library’s 11th Biennial Summer Film Institute

HIDDEN FIGURES: Blackness and Black Experiences in East Germany

June 11-17, 2023

Organized and hosted by the DEFA Film Library University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

What role did “race,” particularly Blackness and whiteness, play in the former East Germany (German Democratic Republic, GDR)? The GDR’s international stance aligned itself with so-called “Third World” nations against capitalism. This created lasting cultural and economic relationships with Global South countries such as Angola, Cuba, Mozambique and Chile, as well as with the Black-American left and indigenous peoples in the United States. Film was frequently used as a medium to reinforce such relationships, especially to the GDR’s own majority-white populace.

The 2023 DEFA Film Library Summer Film Institute will explore the tensions between the ideal of anti-racist solidarity that DEFA films intended to convey and the lived reality of the many Black people or People of Color who lived in East Germany. How do we reconcile the positive images we have of Paul Robeson visiting the GDR or the East German solidarity campaign for Angela Davis, with the negative reality of anti-Black discrimination and racist violence? What experiences did Black and/or non-white filmmakers have at the DEFA Studios? We will complement the East German film selection with films produced by students at East Germany’s only film academy in Potsdam-Babelsberg, as well as with current film productions.

For the complete program of the film festival, please visit:

World premiere of the 4K restoration by the DEFA Foundation in Berlin, Germany! A cinematic homage to the son of a former slave, the African American singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898–1976). Introduction by Evan Torner, University of Cincinnati.
Mon, 6/12
A white couple living in East Germany in the 1960s tells their Black child that her skin color is purely by chance and has no meaning. This is what the girl believes, until, as a teenager, she accidentally discovers the truth: Lucien, her dad, was a student from Togo and her married mother had an affair with him. Introduction by Priscilla Layne, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Wed, 6/14