About seven years ago, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau received outraged reactions when, in connection with the debate on the blessing of same-sex partnerships, he said that “positive values of living together” exist “even between the members of a gang”. of gangsters”. The implied statement that a gang of gangsters is still not a family can be seen as a core statement in the currently much talked about motion picture “The Young Chief Winnetou” (Director: Mike Marzuk).
“In this way, the film’s main villain is already labeled as ‘genderqueer’ before he appears around the middle of the film, and his feminine appearance reinforces this classification.”
The film, which shows two twelve-year-old boys as the protagonists of an adventure in the Wild West, contains sharp and provocative comments on the LGBTQ and gender debate, the explosive nature of which has hardly been noticed by the critics: the controversy revolves around the “young chief Winnetou”. so far largely about allegations of “cultural appropriation” and an overly careless handling of ethnic stereotypes – in the “Frankfurter Rundschau” a critic accused e.g. the film for “racist clichés, including historical revisionist romanticisation of colonization and the accompanying genocide”. Heavy artillery is brought up against a children’s adventure film.
These disputes reached a further level of escalation when the children’s book publisher Ravensburger decided to withdraw the publication of two books about the film, a puzzle and a sticker album. The sometimes very emotional reactions to this process illustrate the importance of the figure of the Apache chief Winnetou, created by Karl May in 1875 and made the hero of a series of novels and stories, in the collective imagination of the Germans. The 1960s Winnetou film with Pierre Brice, as Mike Marzuk’s reinterpretation of the Winnetou story – in this respect comparable to Michael “Bully” Herbig’s “Der Schuh des Manitou” (2001) – is much more oriented than Karl May’s books.
Apaches look like Sioux
From the landscape shots to the scenes in the western town of Rio Santo (including a solid saloon brawl) to the creation of quirky supporting characters, Young Chief Winnetou makes a visible effort – and quite successfully – to emulate the style of the older films. The adventures of the chief’s son Winnetou (Mika Ullritz) and the horse thief Tom Silver (Milo Haaf), who in the course of the film change from Winnetou’s antagonist to his companion and finally to his friend and blood brother, thus take place in a fictional universe with the real 19th century North America has little more in common than the world of “Game of Thrones” with medieval Europe.
Those who do not accept this premise will not enjoy the film very much – and will discover numerous inconsistencies in it, not only of an ethnological nature: Why do the Apaches look like the Sioux? If they are sedentary and don’t want to leave the immediate vicinity of their tribal sanctuary, why do they live in tents? Can you really keep a whole herd of buffalo trapped in a valley? At the same time, however, it is quite obvious that it is not such details that have drawn the critics’ guild’s ire against the “young chieftain Winnetou”. The accusations against the film are far more fundamental. You don’t even have to have seen a Wild West movie based on Karl May motifs to accuse it of “cultural appropriation” and the use of racist stereotypes.
An important family image is conveyed
If you look at him anyway, you realize that there are all kinds of things to say about him, not least regarding gender aspects. Like other cinematic reinterpretations of popular culture myths — think, for example, “The Lord of the Rings” — “Young Chief Winnetou” also makes some concessions to contemporary ideas about gender justice: There is a warrior among the Apaches, Ish-kay -no (Xenia Georgia Assenza), who ride and fight alongside the male warriors on an equal footing without this being justified or even presented as needing explanation; and Winnetou’s sister Nscho-tschi (Lola Linnéa Padotzke) also plays a more active and assertive role than in previous versions of the story.
What is more remarkable and significant, however, is the family image that the film represents. “The Young Chief Winnetou” is not only a family film, as it seems specially designed for children to watch with their parents or even their grandparents; Family also plays a larger thematic role in the film’s plot than one would expect from a Wild West adventure.
The main villain must be genderqueer
Although young Winnetou does not live in a completely intact family – his mother died years ago – he has experienced much more family security than his colleague Tom Silver, who is an orphan and was raised by a band of robbers. The leader of this gang, Todd Crow (Anatole Taubman), is what Tom calls “Aunt Todd” when he first talks about him; but when Winnetou then asks “Who is this woman?” Tom explains that Todd is not a woman and that Winnetou must be careful not to refer to him as such.
In this way, the film’s main villain is already labeled as “genderqueer” before he appears around the middle of the film, and his feminine appearance emphasizes this classification. The warning about “mischievous” Todd is also repeated later when two gang members talk about their boss, unsure of what pronouns to use for him.
The children are presented with distorted images as “normal”.
Overall, Todd Crow’s gang is staged as a grotesque caricature of a real family; Todd refers to his gang members as his “children” and little Tom even as his “favorite son” – which he angrily rejects. When good has triumphed and Apache Chief Intschu-tschuna (Mehmet Kurtuluş) embraces his long-lost children, Tom triumphantly tells Todd, “You see – that’s how family works.” In a social and media climate where the demand for decidedly positive portrayal of gender identities that deviate from the norm and alternative family models, also and especially in products for children, is becoming more and more mainstream, this sentence represents a surprisingly sharp provocation.
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