The Intersections of Race and Gender: Representations of the First Female Afro-German Detective in Tatort

by: , June 14, 2021

© Screenshot from Tatort Göttingen (2019-present)

In an interview about her new role as police inspector Anaïs Schmitz in Germany’s Tatort, Florence Kasumba was asked whether the recent media coverage of her skin colour was an indication of a lack of diversity on German TV. Turning this assumption on its head, Kasumba responded, ‘It is an indication of the fact that Germany is ready for this idea and for the changing media landscape’. (ARD 2019) This paper contributes to the coverage of ‘race’ on German TV as I critically analyse representations of Anaïs Schmitz, the first female Afro-German detective on Germany’s Tatort (Crime Scene). The anthology series on ARD is one of the most popular German crime shows, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. Much has been written about Tatort, ‘the holy grail of German prime time television’ (deGruyter), but this paper presents the first study on the intersections of race and gender in the representation of a Black female detective. I contextualise Tatort and Anaïs Schmitz in larger discussions of ‘race’ and migration in contemporary Germany. Using critical race theory and intersectionality as developed by scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, and Jean Stefancic, I examine the construction of Anaïs Schmitz as a female investigator with her female partner on the force, Charlotte Lindholm. While Anaïs Schmitz is meant to come across as an experienced and integrated inspector in order to present a positive image of Göttingen’s police force, I argue that her personal traits and behaviour on the job serve to ‘other’ her. The character’s name, family background, past, and impulsiveness represent Anaïs Schmitz as a foil to Charlotte Lindholm. With their representation as a team, questions of ‘race’ and gender on German TV and in German society have gained renewed importance.

Race in Germany

The term ‘race’ has a complicated history in Germany. A direct translation of ‘race’ would be ‘Rasse’ in German, but ‘Rasse’ carries several connotations that render this translation all but contextually inappropriate. In German, ‘Rasse’ remains tied to the country’s past, particularly its colonial history and the Third Reich. (Chua, Rahim & Himmrich 2008) Jamele Watkins argues that migrant narratives in Germany started roughly in the 1960s, when the country was in need of skilled labour. (2017: 21) The author does not, however, consider Afro-Germans part of these migrant narratives, since their presence in Germany began as early as in the Middle Ages. (Watkins 2017: 22) Watkins points to the Berlin Congress of 1884/1885 as a significant event in German colonial history, when the German Reich (das Deutsche Reich) was given control of several parts of Africa, including Deutsch-Ostafrika (Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi in present-day East Africa), Deutsch-Südwestafrika (present-day Namibia), and Togo and Cameroon (Kamerun) in West Africa. (Watkins 2017: 22) These areas were euphemistically referred to as protectorates (Schutzgebiete). (Apraku 2020)

Despite the colonial presence of Germans in African colonies of the German Reich from the late 19th century to the early 20th century up until the end of World War I, many Germans are not aware of Germany’s colonial past. (Apraku 2020) Josephine Apraku has shown how even politicians in prominent positions do not know about—or are unwilling to acknowledge—this part of German history. (2020) Apraku laments the lack of education on this topic in German school textbooks. (2020) Similarly, Anke Wischmann attests to a lack of the concept of ‘race’ in discourses on education (Bildung) in Germany. (2018: 471) Wischmann explores the absence of ‘race’ using various prominent philosophers, the most famous of whom being Immanuel Kant. (2018: 477) Kant was instrumental in dividing human beings into ‘races’ in what Wischmann has aptly called an ‘allegedly scientifically proven system’. (2018: 478) According to Kant, the white/European ‘race’ is considered most developed, while the other non-white ‘races’ are stigmatised as inferior. (Wischmann 2018: 478) This unfortunate pseudo-scientific distinction, with its focus on outer appearance and, particularly, skin colour is still part of contemporary discourses, albeit in more subtle ways.

A reliance on ‘race’ and the supposed racial superiority of certain groups of people also formed the basis for the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 (Nürnberger Rassengesetze). (Chua, Rahim & Himmrich 2008) The German term ‘Nürnberger Rassengesetze’ includes ‘race’ to literally mean ‘Nuremberg Race Laws.’ These laws codified racial attitudes and anti-Semitism in legal documents during the time of the Third Reich (1933-1945). While discrimination based on ‘race’ is officially banned in contemporary Germany, the issue remains a contentious topic. Sabine Scholl has shown how contemporary attitudes are still influenced by perceptions of differences going back to colonial times when people were, for example, gazed at as ‘exotic attractions in zoos’. (2016) At least 25 non-European people were exhibited in (West) Berlin’s zoo (Zoologischer Garten) until 1952. (Kurt 2019) People were shown as savages or primitives, which usually went hand in hand with representations of them being sexually hyperactive. (Scholl 2016) Part of this exoticisation in ethnological exhibitions (Völkerschauen) lives on in questions such as, ‘Can I touch your hair?’ to give but one example. Alice Hasters has shown racist attitudes in the context of discussions of hair and the ‘need’ to touch non-white hair. (2019: 109-111) The white touch and the white gaze are also manifest in the Berlin Staatsballett (state ballet) case of December 2020, in which French ballerina Chloé Lopes Gomes accused a ballet mistress of racism and whitefacing after being asked to colour her face to ‘fit in’. (New York Times 2020)

Chua, Rahim, and Himmrich (2008) argue that language plays an important role in constructing everyday realities. The authors call for a deconstruction of ‘discriminatory terminology’: ‘[i]f we are to overcome discriminatory attitudes, then deconstructing prejudice in Germany is the first step towards recognising, and then disrupting, the discourse of difference’. (2008) Questions of identity formation are complicated by the laws that have long privileged being German based upon heritage. Up until 2000, the citizenship law in Germany (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz) followed the principles of ‘the law of blood’ (jus sanguinis). Under this concept, one can only be a German citizen through ancestry. (Chua, Rahim & Himmrich 2008) In 2000, the law was amended to include several provisions for ‘the right of soil’ (jus soli), under which certain people can acquire citizenship based in their place of birth. (Chua, Rahim & Himmrich 2008) Alice Hasters has pointed out that the question of ‘who you really are’ is still predominantly tied to one’s background, or assumptions about it. (2019: 20) Hasters recalls often being asked, ‘where are you from?’ —and being probed further about her ‘origin’ and ‘roots’ with ‘where are you really from?’ when her answer that she was from Cologne was supposedly not enough. (Hasters 2019: 20) In this sense, ‘belonging to the German nation continues to be based on ethno-cultural traits including skin colour and ethnic origin, and not by whether one lives, works, or participates in German society’. (Chua, Rahim & Himmrich 2008)

Even though popular discourses and people’s attitudes are slow to adapt, change is happening in Germany with regard to the country’s attempts to come to terms with its colonial history, and to educate people about diversity. Several recent books engage with the topic of racism, such as Tupoka Ogette’s 2018 publication, exit RACISM: rassismuskritisch denken lernen (exit RACISM: learning to think critically about racism), or Alice Hasters’s 2019 publication, Was weiße Menschen nicht über Rassismus hören wollen, aber wissen sollten (What white people do not want to hear about racism, but what they should know). Another example of change happening in the public sphere is the fact that street names are contested and eventually modified. The most prominent example concerns ‘Mohrenstraße’ (‘Moor’s Street) in Berlin. Activists had for a long time argued that this was a derogatory term that testified to Germany’s colonial past, and thus needed to be changed. (Zeit 2020) In August 2020, it was finally decided to rename the street after Anton Wilhelm Amo, a philosopher from what is present-day Ghana. He was educated and taught in 18th century Halle, Wittenberg, and Jena in present-day Germany, which he left in 1747 as a result of racial prejudice against him. (Zeit 2020) The timing of this change may have been influenced by the increased awareness around the Black Lives Matter protests, both in the US and worldwide, following the death of George Floyd (amongst others). Increased discussion on social media may have contributed to more awareness in Germany as well, which might have prompted action such as finally changing the street name. It remains to be seen whether such trends are temporary or have the potential to entail lasting change.

Visibility is another important aspect of initiating change. As Germany is becoming more diverse and heterogeneous, representations of minorities and marginalised groups of people have also increased in the media. Afro-Germans are an integral part of Germany, yet are often not fully visible, or are represented in stereotypical ways. Visibility plays an important role in increasing acceptance and ‘normalisation.’ Afrozensus (Afro Census) is a means to achieve such visibility in the fight against racism. It is an initiative sponsored by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes). Germany is home to more than one million people of African descent. (Afrozensus 2020) According to their website, ‘the aim of #AFROZENSUS is to obtain as comprehensive a picture as possible of the experiences of people of African descent in Germany, how they assess their lives in Germany and what they expect from politics and society’. (2020) An online survey has just been completed, and interviews are about to be conducted with results expected in 2021. (Afrozensus 2020) With these results, ‘a demographic group in Germany which is severely affected by intersectional discrimination can finally attain the public visibility that is needed for a better representation of their interests’. (Afrozensus 2020) The initiative plans to propose measures to ‘reduce racial discrimination and to protect and promote people of African descent in Germany’. (Afrozensus 2020) In addition to demographic visibility, representation of diversity in fiction is equally important when showcasing diversity and a society’s inclusiveness. The following sections will look at such representation of diversity using Tatort as an example.

Critical Race Discourses

Language matters in everyday life and representation. It is through language that we construct our realities and make sense of the world. In recent years, there has been increasing attention paid to the representation and inclusion of non-white populations in popular discourses. The deaths of several African Americans at the hands of police officers, and contemporary events such as the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, have sparked outrage and support, which has also had an effect on Germany and the perception of Afro-Germans in the media and in everyday life. Representations of marginalised people have become more important over the past few years, but issues of identify formation and discrimination have permeated scholarly and popular discourses. Terms surrounding people’s identities are often contested. In the UK, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) is often used—though not without controversy—to describe non-white identities. It is also important to consider that it matters who describes whom; in other words, whether people self-describe or are described from the outside. ‘BIPOC’ is a recent example of how terminology is changing and evolving to represent people fairly. In addition to the previously widely used POC (‘person of colour),’ BIPOC includes ‘Black’ and ‘Indigenous’ in the North American context. Sandra Garcia (2020) has shown that, although meant to be inclusive, this term is also considered controversial. Some have pointed out that a conflation of various identities in one term is actually counterproductive. (Garcia 2020) Lumping people together does not do justice to the various forms of discrimination and reproduces colonial practices. (Garcia 2020) Instead, scholars and activists argue that it would be more helpful to learn about differences and acknowledge that there is not one homogenous group of non-white people. (Garcia 2020)

In the German context, similar linguistic practices indicate the significance of language in representation. Scholars and activists often refer to the Anglo-American context to explain terms in German. Similar to ‘Black’ in English, ‘Schwarz’ (with a capital S) does not signify a person’s actual skin colour, but instead refers to ‘Black’ as an analytical category. (Apraku 2019)  The capital S in German indicates that it is different from the regular adjective ‘schwarz,’ which would use the lower case. Apraku points out that this term and its usage were introduced by May Ayim in the early 1980s. (2019) ‘Weiß’ (‘white’) is equally not a colour, but a critical category to analyse discrimination and privilege. (Apraku 2019) It is sometimes spelled with a capital W, or even italicised as ‘weiß’. (Apraku 2019) Again, this is similar to ‘white privilege’ in the Anglo-American context, in that the term does not reference a visible skin colour, but indicates a person who does not experience discrimination on a constant basis. There is no separate or translated term for ‘people of colour’ in German, so the term in English is used. (Apraku 2019) Language is a powerful tool to convey racial discrimination, but it can also be used to fight against racism. The term ‘Neger’ in German (similar to ‘Negro’ in English) is an example of how the meaning of words changes over time. Originally denoting the dark skin of people, it has come to be associated with Germany’s colonial past, which is the chief reason why the term is not used anymore, and is considered a racial slur similar to the n-word in the US American context. 

These changes reflect new realities in demographics in certain parts of the world. Despite the fact that people of colour are projected to be in the majority in the US by 2044, most representations that we see cling to the imagining of majority-white environments. (Capers 2019: 2) Similarly, Achille Mbembe has diagnosed what he calls the ‘Becoming Black of the world’ (2017: 6, emphasis in the original), as the term ‘Black’ is generalised for the first time. As Europe is seen less and less as the centre of the world (Mbembe 2017: 5), people need to come to terms with this new ‘Blackness.’ Critical Race Theory (CRT) presents one framework for analysis of the changing circumstances. CRT emerged in the 1980s in the US American context. (Warmington 2020) It originated in the context of legal studies as a means to address racism, but has since spread into many other fields, such as education, sociology, and cultural studies. (Warmington 2020: 22) According to Warmington, CRT ‘comprises a race-conscious social analysis,’ and is ‘predicated upon intersectionality’. (2020: 22) Delgado and Stefancic define the CRT movement as ‘a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power’. (2017: 18) The movement has its origins in the Civil Rights Movement and is related to ethnic studies. (Delgado & Stefancic 2017: 18) Delgado and Stefancic identify a radical potential as CRT ‘questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law’. (Delgado & Stefancic 2017: 18) Critical Race Theorists believe that racism is an everyday occurrence upon which society is predicated. (Delgado & Stefancic 2017: 21) Race and racism are socially constructed. These constructs can and need to change to achieve a fair and equitable treatment of people in society that is not based on their skin colour and ethnic background.

Intersectionality is of particular importance to CRT. Examining race, class, gender, and other factors together yields a better understanding of the complexities of discrimination. As Delgado and Stefancic point out: ‘[i]ndividuals … operate at an intersection of recognised sites of oppression’. (2017: 49) To address injustices, it is important to understand intersectionality. How we frame narratives and individuals ‘determines who has power, voice and representation and who does not’. (Delgado & Stefancic 2017: 51) Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw was one of the first to address the concept of intersectionality of race and gender in the legal context. Crenshaw argues that discrimination in terms of race and gender need, in some cases, to be considered together: ‘many of the experiences Black women face are not subsumed within the traditional boundaries of race or gender discrimination as these boundaries are currently understood’. (1991: 1244) Separate laws against gender discrimination or racial discrimination do not always cover these issues, and this warrants a new, intersectional approach. Crenshaw’s goal was to ‘demarginalise’ the intersections of race and gender. (1989: 139) In the past few decades, intersectionality has gained importance as an analytical framework to address discrimination.

Race and Gender in Tatort

In November 2020, Germany’s Tatort (Crime Scene) celebrated its 50th anniversary. The first ever episode of Tatort aired on November 29, 1970 (Dell 2020), and the show is a fixture of Sunday nights in Germany. Virtually everyone knows the show and its famous theme tune. Many people have seen episodes, or are at least familiar with show’s well-known logo, that of eyes in the cross hairs. (Dell 2020) Before its 50th anniversary in November 2020, 1,146 episodes of Tatort had aired. (Dell 2020) The show is broadcast by ARD, one of Germany’s public-service TV channels. It is ‘the longest running show on German television,’ and also one of its most successful ever. (Ruhl 2010: 137) Each Tatort episode focuses on one separate crime. The series takes place in various parts of Germany, for example, episodes have been set in Hamburg, Kiel, Bremen, Berlin, Dresden, Münster, Dortmund, Weimar, Göttingen, Cologne, Frankfurt, Mainz, Wiesbaden, Saarbrücken, Ludwigshafen, Stuttgart, and Munich (ARD 2020), with each regional team conducting its investigation independently. Kathrin Ruhl (2010) has pointed out that this reflects the federal structure of the country, and provides a regional flavor to the crimes and investigations. Similarly, Michelle Mattson describes how there has been a regional focus on Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr region, an area in West Germany around Dortmund), featuring the famous inspector Schimanski, portrayed by Götz George; or, for example, on issues relating to the former GDR (German Democratic Republic) in the 1990s after reunification. (1999: 163) Episodes have also taken place in Zurich, Switzerland, and Vienna, Austria. (ARD 2020)

Ruhl (2010) sets ARD’s Tatort apart from contemporaries airing on other channels, such as ZDF, the other German public-service broadcaster. The author highlights the focus on current social and political problems on Tatort, which marked it as different from the ‘conservative’ attitudes displayed on other shows on ZDF in the 1970s. (Ruhl 2010: 143) Recent studies have explored how women and migrants, among other demographics, have been represented on Tatort as part of this focus on contemporary issues in society. Ruhl finds that, ‘while the 1970s and 1980s were dominated by male inspectors … the number of female characters has considerably increased since the 1990s’. (2010: 144-145) This concerns both female inspectors and other female characters. Ruhl points out that women are no longer simply found in supporting roles such as secretaries or waitresses. (2010: 155) The first female Tatort investigator was Marianne Buchmüller, portrayed by Nicole Heesters in three episodes in 1978. (Ruhl 2010: 146) Ruhl examines the representation of four female investigators that followed Buchmüller. (2010: 147-155) She finds that women have been presented as ‘both more individualised and more active’. (Ruhl 2010: 155) In their 2013 study, Michaela Krieg and Stefanie Spitzendobler (2013) analyse the same female inspectors and arrive at similar conclusions with regard to their representation as what the authors call ‘active female characters,’ since they are not simply represented as minor characters, but actively take charge of their lives and careers.

Various studies have analysed ‘the foreign presence’ (Mattson 1999: 164) in Tatort. Mattson explores how the ‘immigrant population’ (165) in (West) Germany is represented in the crime series. In the early 1980s, the shows simply present a perception of a ‘foreign presence in German … society’ (Mattson 1999: 174), since awareness was all there was at that time, and diversity was not a big issue yet. Later studies have found that migrants and their representations play an increasingly more important role in Tatort. (Löffler, n.d.; Stürmer 2018) Marion Löffler has stated that Tatort episodes of the 1990s have predominantly focused on racism at the micro-level (n.d.: 3), not as an institutionalised issue in society. Löffler also found that migrants tended to be represented as victims, the police as helpful, and racists as outsiders, rather than the norm in society. (Löffler n.d.: 3) In a 2018 study, Franziska Stürmer shows that discourses of migration and racism have increased significantly in Germany, as in 2015 the country was listed as the place with the second-highest immigration rate worldwide, after the US. (Stürmer 2018: 87) This is due to the ‘migrant crisis’ in 2015, during which many people fled to Germany. Stürmer’s analysis finds that recent Tatort episodes attempt to reflect the increasing diversity in Germany, but that the show’s casting has so far failed to represent this. (Stürmer 2018: 96) In its portrayal of the first female Afro-German inspector Anaïs Schmitz, Tatort Göttingen (2019-present) represents the first attempt to rectify this. While previous studies have analysed race and gender as separate identity issues, this study looks at the intersections of race and gender in its representation of Anaïs Schmitz.

Tatort Göttingen

Inspector (Kriminalhauptkommissarin) Anaïs Schmitz is played by Florence Kasumba, who is well known internationally for her appearances in The Lion King, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War, among other productions. (Kasumba 2020) At the time of writing, three episodes of Tatort featuring the character have aired: ‘Das verschwundene Kind’ (‘The Lost Child’: 3 February 2019), ‘Krieg im Kopf’ (‘War in the Head’: 29 March 2020), and ‘National feminin’ (‘National feminine’: 26 April 2020). According to ARD, a fourth episode, ‘Die Rache an der Welt’ (‘Revenge against the World’) was filmed in 2020 and will air in 2021. (ARD, 2020) I pay particular attention to the intersections of race and gender in the portrayal of Inspector Anaïs Schmitz.

Göttingen, with its new team of two female inspectors, was a novel choice of location for Tatort. The mid-size city in the state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) is located in central Germany. While it is not a major city, it is well-known for its university, where the Brothers Grimm were professors for a time, as well as its location along the German Fairy Tale Route (Märchenstraße). For the purposes of Tatort, Göttingen is presented as provincial, at least from Inspector Charlotte Lindholm’s perspective. Played by Maria Furtwängler since 2002, Charlotte Lindholm was originally part of Tatort Hannover. As a result of professional misconduct on one of her cases in Hanover (‘Hannover’ in German), Lindholm has been demoted and sent to Göttingen as ‘punishment’ (Strafversetzung) (‘Das verschwundene Kind’). As the capital of Lower Saxony, Hanover is considered a more desirable post. Lindholm still retains her apartment in Hanover, where she lives with her son and mother. She makes it clear from the very beginning that she is only in Göttingen temporarily until things clear up in Hanover and she is allowed to continue her work in the more prestigious post (‘Das verschwundene Kind’).

The rhetoric regarding Göttingen, and particularly Charlotte Lindholm’s post, is important, because there is an interesting incongruity at play. Even though Lindholm was demoted and sent to Göttingen to work with the established team there, she is sometimes presented as being in charge, despite the fact that she is an outsider at first. In earlier episodes of Tatort Hannover, Lindholm was also presented as independent, not much of a team player, and as being at odds with her colleagues. (Ruhl 2010: 153) This is particularly evident when she is partnered with Anaïs Schmitz. Both inspectors are presented as strong-willed professionals who find it hard to cooperate with one another. When Lindholm tries to dominate the investigation, she is put in her place by an assistant who prefers Inspector Schmitz. Thinking that certain steps need to be taken in the investigation, Lindholm orders the assistant to follow up on these items, to which the assistant responds three times in a row: ‘Anaïs has already taken care of this’. (‘Das verschwundene Kind’ 0:55:00) This indicates both that Inspector Schmitz is one step ahead of Inspector Lindholm, and that it is she who enjoys the team’s support. 

Apart from Inspector Anaïs Schmitz, the team is presented as homogeneously white. The third case, ‘National feminin,’ finally highlights a little more diversity during a team discussion, when Anaïs Schmitz addresses two team members: Turkish-German colleague Elloglu, and Vietnamese-German colleague Nguyen. (‘National feminin’ 0:30:02) However, neither character plays an important role, with Elloglu having one line and Nguyen not speaking at all. This is the first and only time these characters are mentioned, and thus they are not presented as integral parts of the team. One might even speculate that their inclusion was intended as an attempt at diversity that goes beyond Inspector Anaïs Schmitz.  This shows that the efforts to create more diversity in the show have not yet gone far beyond the perfunctory. Non-white characters in Tatort Göttingen are not fully developed yet, functioning as sidekicks rather than integral parts of the investigation.

Tatort Göttingen has so far proven successful, taking the prime spot in terms of viewership for each of the nights it aired. ‘Das verschwundene Kind’ was seen by 9.77 million people, which corresponds to 26.5% of the viewership, compared to 5.24 million viewers for the second most popular show that night. (Riedner 2019) 9.51 million viewers watched the second episode, ‘Krieg im Kopf,’ which represents 25.2% of the market share, compared to 4.74 million viewers in the no. 2 spot. (Riedner 2020) Finally, ‘National feminin’ reached 26.7% with 9.5 million viewers, followed by 3.68 million viewers for the second-highest rating of that evening. (Weis 2020) 

Race and Racism in Tatort Göttingen

Tatort Göttingen presents Inspector Anaïs Schmitz as an experienced investigator who takes her job seriously, and who works well with her team of investigators and IT specialists, as well as her boss and assistant. She is presented as German, as opposed to Afro-German—a word (afrodeutsch) that never appears in relation to her in any of the episodes. This is important, as it marks Anaïs Schmitz as being no different from any of her white colleagues, a status for which she aims in her professional behaviour on the job. Her language does not distinguish her from her colleagues. Schmitz is as ‘German’ as anyone else on both the team and the show in general. She does not identify as ‘African,’ but focuses on being ‘German.’ Schmitz is represented as fully integrated among her colleagues, who all convey an honest and a positive image of Göttingen’s police force. However, while Schmitz is not singled out on the surface, racial discrimination is present in more subtle ways. Anaïs’ personal traits and her behaviour on the job serve to ‘other’ her, as I will illustrate. She is represented in opposition to the white Charlotte Lindholm due to her name, her past experiences, her family background, and her sometimes-impulsive behaviour on the job.

The first time the viewer encounters Inspector Anaïs Schmitz is at the crime scene of the first case, ‘Das verschwundene Kind.’ The case of ‘the lost child’ focuses on a 15-year-old girl who has just given birth, but did not seem to know that she was pregnant. The baby is gone, and the girl does not want to reveal who the father is since she was raped and has tried to repress the events in her mind. Charlotte Lindholm arrives at the crime scene to talk to her new colleagues. As she enters the dirty environment of an abandoned public bathroom, she yells accusingly: ‘You don’t want to clean this up now—this is a crime scene’ (‘Sie wollen doch hier nicht putzen—das ist ein Tatort!’ 0:11:55). The accusation is directed at Anaïs Schmitz, who happens to be holding a bucket and other cleaning utensils in her hand as part of the investigation. Another character introduces her to Lindholm as her colleague a minute later. Lindholm is visibly embarrassed, and apologises for the cliché of mistaking her only non-white colleague for the cleaner, instead of recognising her as a colleague in the middle of doing her investigative work. In lieu of shaking hands, Anaïs Schmitz responds: ‘Dirty hands’ (‘Hände schmutzig’ 0:12:58). Raising her hands, she moves away to avoid her colleague. While this is factually true, it can also be read metaphorically as Anaïs’ offended reaction to this affront.

Another moment of confrontation between the two colleagues happens a little later the same day, while they are out in the field investigating the case. Schmitz slaps Lindholm in the face as a response to her insinuation that Anaïs and her colleagues are not pulling their weight during this investigation. Charlotte asks, ‘are you out of your mind?’ (‘Sind Sie irre?’ 0:28:12), and Anaïs responds somewhat apologetically: ‘lack of impulse control … therapy has not been helpful’ (‘mangelnde Impulskontrolle … Therapie nutzt nichts’ 0:28:37). Tatort Göttingen presents several scenes of an impulsive, aggressive, uncontrollable Anaïs, which serve to represent her stereotypically. She is seen as being reduced to her body, since she is agile and lacks control of her impulses. This happens twice more in ‘Das verschwundene Kind.’ Anaïs is presented on two separate occasions as being close to attacking suspects because she thinks that they are hiding something and speaking about women inappropriately. Both times, Charlotte holds her back and reminds her of her responsibility to the job (0:38:00 and 0:47:40). Even though race is not specifically mentioned in these incidents, it is an implied factor in the lack of control. This confirms a stereotype that Black women often encounter, as they are represented as angry, screaming, and out of control. This use of racist imagery is still present in contemporary representations of Black women as angry and ‘sassy.’

In ‘National feminin,’ the viewers encounter Anaïs and Charlotte during an interrogation. Charlotte wants to put more pressure on the suspects, but this time it is Anaïs who holds her back and reminds her to remain professional (‘National feminin’ 0:19:00). Since they are investigating a crime that involves racists who have voiced their anti-immigrant and nationalist opinions, Charlotte says in Anaïs’ defense: ‘I am also doing this for you’ (‘Ich mach’ das hier auch für dich’ 0:19:07), but Anaïs simply says, ‘I didn’t ask you to’ (Ich hab’ dich nicht drum gebeten’ 0:19:12). While Charlotte is presented as a well-meaning supporter, this scene shows that Anaïs wants to be in charge and keep her agency. In this instance, Charlotte is represented as a ‘white saviour’ who feels the need to defend Anaïs, mostly for her own benefit to appear as a helpful colleague. While she wants to support Anaïs, Charlotte does not realise that her behaviour can be construed as condescending. Instead of allowing Anaïs to handle the situation in her own way, Charlotte wants to ‘save’ her from the perceived threat, assuming that Anaïs needs her help and she is able to provide it.

In almost all of the racist incidents with the anti-immigrant nationalists, Anaïs responds either not at all—refusing to take the bait—or with a single word. In another verbal confrontation with the nationalist suspects, one of them instructs her to ‘shut up’ because she does not ‘belong’ and ‘Africa needs you—go back there’ (‘Halt du die Fresse, du hast hier nichts zu suchen. Afrika braucht dich, hau ab’ 0:57:30-0:58:20). Anaïs calmly presses the button on the intercom and says: ‘escort them out’ (‘abführen’ 0:58:23). At this moment, she is presented as completely in control. Another instance of a single-word answer comes during a conversation with a professor at his office, when he says he prefers coffee from Africa and assumes that Anaïs would as well. She simply responds with ‘nope’ (‘Nö’ 0:44:00). She may have internalised these racist comments, but she will not be baited by such people. Her lack of control is usually presented when in situations that are not about racism. This shows that Anaïs is fully in control of situations that supposedly address her ‘Africanness’ and the assumptions that accompany it. In this last example, the professor equated her skin colour and her African background with a love of ‘things presumably from Africa’ such as coffee. Instead of returning a stereotype, for example a hypothetical, ‘you are a white German, so you must be a Nazi,’ Anaïs provides her one-word answer, which is even more effective in its tone.

Despite the initial misunderstandings, Anaïs and Charlotte bond over their cases together. This is evident in the shift from the formal address of ‘Sie’ to the informal ‘du,’ both meaning ‘you’ in English, when addressing each other. This happens first at the end of their first case together (‘Das verschwundene Kind’ 1:17:10) and continues from then on to show the level of collegiality and increasing familiarity. In the same episode, there is also a bonding opportunity over the implicitly ‘female’ topic of pregnancy, and the death of the newborn. By that time in the narrative, the viewers know that Charlotte has a school-age son, while Anaïs has suffered a miscarriage (1:08:10). Her personal wish for a child is evident in the episode, presented in juxtaposition to the death of the newborn child. Anaïs leaves the autopsy room saying: ‘she has killed her child, I can feel it’ (‘sie hat ihr Kind getötet, ich spür’ das’ 1:08:50). Anaïs is presented in an emotional state—angry, but also deeply saddened due to her personal experience and inability to understand why somebody would commit such a crime.

At the end of their first case together, Anaïs asks Charlotte about her plans to go back to Hanover. In a back-handed compliment, she points out that her colleagues would be lucky to have her back, but also says, ‘we’d miss you here’ (‘du würdest hier fehlen’ 1:29:35). These sentiments are echoed later when Charlotte calls Anaïs ‘a colleague who means something to me’ (‘National feminin’ 1:07:00). For Charlotte, who is known to be notoriously egotistic, this is an unexpected comment to indicate how much she appreciates Anaïs. Part of this is undoubtedly the fact that Anaïs saved her life at the beginning of their second case together, ‘Krieg im Kopf,’ in which a returning soldier claimed to hear voices in his head and threatened Charlotte by putting a knife to her neck. Anaïs was able to shoot him, saving Charlotte in the process.

Anaïs’ husband, Nick Schmitz, a white German, is a coroner with whom Anaïs and Charlotte sometimes work. Charlotte is a single mother, and seems interested in Nick on a personal level. Towards the end of the case, Charlotte sees Anaïs and Nick kissing and realises that they are married, which surprises her (0:52:30). Even though Anaïs has adopted Nick’s last name Schmitz, Charlotte did not connect the dots, since Schmitz, as a derivative of Schmidt, is a common name in Germany. This name, it is implied, also gives Anaïs acceptance, making her name sound commonly German and presumably less ‘exotic.’ Despite the knowledge of their marriage, Charlotte and Nick kiss behind Anaïs’ back in the second episode (0:36:20). While Charlotte and Nick acknowledge that this was a mistake, the episodes include a couple of moments of flirting between them, which Dell calls misplaced and irritating. (2020) Dell points out another equally confusing moment in the second case, in which both inspectors try to escape from interfering signals of hypersonic sounds that are supposedly sent to their brains to distract them from their investigation. While Charlotte simply says ‘no’ four times in a row in an effort to shake the signals, Anaïs’ character has to deal with traumatic memories as she is transported back to her childhood. (Dell 2020) Looking at family pictures, the viewers learn that Anaïs’ mother was schizophrenic. (0:56:25-0:57:10) Her parents or other family members never appear in any of the episodes, only being shown in photos, though Anaïs is presented as having grown up in Germany. This singles Anaïs out, and makes her appear more isolated than she actually is. It implies that she is not well connected to her ‘African’ heritage.

Representatives of ARD have also commented on Anaïs Schmitz as a new inspector in Tatort Göttingen. Christian Granderath positions Schmitz ‘next to Charlotte Lindholm’. (ARD n.d.) While this implies that they are equal, it can also be read as ‘in addition’ to an established character. Granderath calls Schmitz ‘the first Black inspector in Tatort’. (ARD n.d.) Interestingly, this refers to her ethnic background, but not to her gender. Granderath says that ARD’s wish is for Schmitz to be accepted so that  it will not be seen as important to mention this fact anymore. (ARD n.d.) This indicates that the production team views Anaïs as completely integrated. The producers did not mean to start a huge discussion on ‘race’ in Tatort and Germany, but wanted to present Anaïs in her role as a successful investigator rather than focus on her being Afro-German.


With increasing migration to Germany over the past few decades, issues such as race and diversity are becoming more and more important as well. Starting in 2019, ARD’s popular Tatort has also contributed to the visibility of this topic by creating the first female Afro-German inspector, Anaïs Schmitz. Since then she has been part of three major investigations in Tatort Göttingen. This paper looked at the representation of Anaïs Schmitz as she faces two potential sites of oppression: race and gender. Tatort Göttingen does not present systemic racism, but small, internalised incidents with which Anaïs Schmitz has to deal. She is presented as a strong-willed character who is professional and a team player. She is well liked by her boss and colleagues and respected by everyone for her work. Occasionally, Anaïs is reduced to being a representation of bodily strength. Interestingly enough, this typically happens when she encounters moments of injustice that are precisely not related to racism. When confronted with racial slurs, she is decidedly cool, and does not engage the person or circumstances. She is certainly aware of these racial comments being directed at her, but she does not speak up against them. Instead, she uses her professionalism as an inspector to counter the racist attitudes she witnesses in suspects or the public at large. While this paper singled out Anaïs Schmitz as the first ‘Black’ inspector on Tatort, ARD officials have expressed their hope that we will one day be able to look beyond differences and simply refer to inspectors without pointing out their ethnic background and/or gender.


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TV Series: Episodes

Tatort, Episode: ‘Das verschwundene Kind.’ 3 February 2019, ARD

Tatort, Episode: ‘Krieg im Kopf’, 29 March 2020, ARD

Tatort, Episode: ‘National feminin’, 26 April 2020,  ARD.

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