Neo-Nazism, racism and xenophobia are nothing new to cinema audiences, but tackling them through comedy is somewhat rare. The new German film "Leroy" breaks all the rules by using laughter to combat racism.
Leroy and his girlfriend Eva in a scene from the film
German writer and director Armin Völckers' debut film "Leroy" is a romantic comedy about a mixed-race boy with an Afro hairstyle falling in love with a blonde-haired girl whose brothers are neo-Nazis.
Not only does the film push the boundaries by dealing with serious issues in a comic light, but it is also the first German film to have a black German, Leroy, as the main character.
Tackling racism through humor
"Instead of putting your finger up and being didactical or politically correct, we wanted to open hearts with humor and make another point in the discussion of what is Germany and what do Germans look like," said the film's producer Oliver Stoltz.
The formula has worked so far. The film been popular with young audiences in Germany and it won the Audience Award at the 2007 Tokyo International Film Festival on October 28.
A comic risk
Using comedy to deal with topics such as xenophobia and racism was risky, especially for a debut film.
"For example, we were making fun of the skinhead characters on the set and we thought of a lot of things that other people did not find funny," said director Völckers. "To them, skinheads were evil and they couldn't laugh about them right away. We had to find other ways to approach that."
According to Völckers, about 70 percent of the jokes the crew came up with were out of the question. Many of the things that neo-Nazis would usually say to an African-German were not used because they were too degrading to Leroy's character.
To explore the situation where a black boy rings the door of a neo-Nazi family in Germany, Völckers had to stay in a fairly light mode.
"We had to seek a refuge that German humor has sought since the war," he said. "If you look at the tradition of German humor, it's all really silly. They’re harmless little boys playing pranks," he said.
While the exaggerated stereotypes portrayed in the film might appear unrealistic, the film does present elements found in contemporary German society.
"We have minorities and we have people with different looks and they all live here and they all have their place in German culture, said Stoltz. "It's just exaggerating it a bit so that we can see it in a lighter way."
The film Leroy shows Germans of all shapes and sizes
"We have this picture in mind that Germans are only white and blonde haired and blue eyed and we forget that we have become an immigrant country," he added.