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Actor Eugene Boateng on authenticity and roots

October 29, 2021

The actor and producer of the award-winning film "Borga" says his background inspired him to work on this story about a Ghanaian who leaves his home country.

A portrait of actor Eugene Boateng
Celebrating the premiere of 'Borga'Image: Uwe Anspach/dpa/picture alliance

Eugene Boateng is a rising star in Germany's film scene, but success does not mean he is about to forget his roots.

Short biographies of the actor born in 1985 in Düsseldorf always mention the street where he grew up: Kiefernstrasse.

The street was home to many squats in the 1980s; Kiefernstrasse also became notorious in the mid-80s in Germany through its alleged connections to the RAF terrorist group.

"The Kiefernstrasse shaped me, and I always mention it because when you lived on that street you were always stamped as poor, as someone who lives on a dangerous street," Boateng told DW. But, he adds, it was also a street that brought together people of many different cultures.

For Boateng, the fact that people from varied cultural backgrounds managed to develop such a strong sense of community — among others because they were all victims of prejudice and regularly had to join forces against the neo-Nazis who tried to attack them on the street — is something that contributed to his identity and that he's proud of to this day.

Colorful murals on apartment houses in Düsseldorf.
Kiefernstrasse remains a colorful street in DüsseldorfImage: picture alliance/dpa/H. Ossinger

Inspired by a family hero

Eugene Boateng's parents are both from Ghana. Despite hardships, they managed to bring up a family of eight children — and that is another aspect that inspired Eugene to challenge himself in his own life too. When asked about his role models, Eugene first mentions his father: He "was always a hero for me, because I was always simply impressed by how he mastered everything, that was brilliant," he says. "I want to be able to master all that too and achieve the best for me and my family."

One of his dreams has always been to tell his dad's story in a film. When he first read the script of Borga, it reminded him a lot of how his father and uncle had also come to Germany in the hope of finding a better life, and then faced pressure to support their family back in Ghana too.

Boateng joined the project as a producer and the main star of the film. Directed by York-Fabian Raabe, Borga is now released in film theaters in Germany.

A portrait of Boateng wearing a suit with bicycles in the background.
Boateng during the shoot of 'Borga'Image: Bastian Schneider

'Borga': the myth of making it big abroad

The film opens in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and tells the story of a young boy, Kojo, who grows up Agbogbloshie, one of the poorest suburbs of Accra, where he is required to scavenge scrap metal on a garbage dump for money and obtains little recognition from his father.

As an adult, Kojo leaves Ghana and seeks a better life in Germany, hoping to become what is known on Ghana as a "Borga." Derived from the names of the inhabitants of Hamburg, it describes people who have moved abroad to make money — with the implied expectation of becoming a success.

But as highlighted in the film, the myth of making a fortune in Europe and being seen as a "Borga" success back in their home countries leads many desperate migrants to get involved in illegal schemes.

Told from the Afro-German perspective

If it is not the first film on the migrant experience in Germany, Boateng sees Borga as a work that goes beyond the usual cliché roles that have too often limited Black Germans actors to portraying drug dealers and criminals.

"I think what's important here is that story is told from the perspective of my character. That's an African perspective; that's a Black perspective. It simply didn't exist in Germany until now," says Boateng.

People on a street blocked for a film shoot, in front a storeshop with lots of tires.
During the film shoot in AccraImage: Bastian Schneider

A particularly authentic approach

The actor and producer was responsible for the creative and cultural authenticity of Borga: "For me, it's important that we finally tell stories that are simply authentic — above all stories with African actors, with Black actors," he says.

Boateng directly contributed to the fact that most of the dialogue in the film is in Twi, which is the actor's mother tongue and a language spoken by 80% of the Ghanaian population. This unusual approach for a German film also contributes to the documentary feel of the movie.

The idea for Borga actually emerged from a previous documentary project by director York-Fabian Raabe. He directed the award-winning short film Children of Sodom (2013) during a research trip at the electronic waste yard in Agbogbloshi, where a large part of Borga is also set.

Eugene Boateng accepting the 2021 German Screen Actors Award for best actor in a leading role
Accepting the 2021 German Screen Actors Award for best actor in a leading roleImage: Jörg Carstensen/dpa/picture alliance

Ahead of its theatrical release, the film has already won different awards, including one for best direction at the New Berlin Film Award, the Heimat Europa Film Festival Award, four prizes at the Max Ophüls Festival, including for best feature film and best socially relevant film. 

And now that Eugene Boateng has also won the German Screen Actors Award for best actor in a leading role with the film, it can be assumed that his star will keep on rising — even though his roots will always keep him grounded.

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture