A statement concerning ARTEF’s communication with Berlinale’s Programmers regarding the Norwegian animation film Helt Super, showing in the 2023 programme of the above mentioned festival, and the reactions prompted afterwards.
On February 18th ARTEF received several messages from colleagues who had seen the film Helt Super in its entirety expressing concerns about the film’s depictions of Blackface and animalisation of Black people. In this film, the white heroes turn into lions that, unlike lions, have dark brown hands and partially dark brown faces and bodies which, as our colleagues pointed out, are depictions rooted in colonial thinking where Black people historically have been dehumanised and compared to animals.
After receiving the above comments, the ARTEF steering committee watched the trailer and publicly available promotional materials. In it we were able to see the mentioned issues of Blackfacing/animalisation of white characters. This was the case we brought forward to the Berlinale Generation team highlighting the harm these depictions create towards BIPOC audience members, and especially young Black children.
That same day we also reached out to the Norwegian Film Institute who suggested we contact the filmmakers. We also reached out to the director of the film Rasmus A. Sivertsen via Instagram. The aim was to have a conversation with him in order to understand the specific character development and/or Norwegian context of the story. We received no response.
On Sunday 19th of February, we sent a letter outlining the shared concerns of our colleagues to the heads of Generation, Sebastian Markt and Melika Gothe. In our letter, we requested an open dialogue regarding Helt Super. For a festival that prides itself with a strong stance on inclusion and diversity we questioned the appropriateness of a film like Helt Super. We asked them to get back to us with urgency, knowing the screening was imminent, as we wanted to avoid further harm to BIPOC audiences, and we were hoping to engage in a collaborative solution. The decision to write this letter was taken by the ARTEF steering committee and was called into action by a majority vote. We received no response from the heads of Generation.
The same day at around 15:00, some of ARTEF’s steering committee members were contacted by Mariëtte Rissenbeek, Executive Director of the Berlinale, who asked for a meeting.
On Tuesday, February 21st, members of the ARTEF steering committee met with the Executive Director Mariëtte Rissenbeek and Artistic Director Carlo Chartrian to discuss our concerns and the concerns of those that reached out to ARTEF. We brought forward the case of harm towards BIPOC audience members. As the Berlinale leadership saw the case, it was not an option to withdraw the film from the programme. Although we believed it was not the ideal choice, we suggested thinking about strategies to avoid further harm including adding a disclaimer to the film (something done in the past for sensitive topics). We encouraged a balanced conversation on the film with the filmmaker and someone who had the expertise to unpick the harmful depictions, and/or to make sure the filmmakers were not given a stage to give a one-sided narrative if a countering voice could not be found.
We also discussed what future processes could be implemented to prevent this from happening again. We spoke about what in-depth training should be made available for the programming teams to identify racist tropes in films, and also having a clause when inviting films that allows the Berlinale to question their inclusion in the programme if the film is deemed to be inappropriate for audiences after their invitation.
We stressed that choices that centred white people as the majority, and so therefore their priority, had to be reexamined, as harm is harm, regardless.
We agreed to resume conversations at a later date but were unclear on how they would proceed with the screening of Helt Super. Unfortunately none of the filmmakers were in attendance during this meeting, organised by the Berlinale.
On the 23rd of February, the Norwegian Film Institute asked to be removed from our website, indicating that they wish to cease working with and supporting ARTEF and do not wish to be publicly affiliated with us. We honoured their wish and have reached out to renew a conversation.
Throughout this chain of action, we urged for open conversation and constructive exchange with the Generation Team, with the leadership of Berlinale and the film director. We do not assume that such racist depictions were intended by the filmmakers, nor is ARTEF a policing body to accuse them of such intentions.
The question we have to ask is, ‘whose cultural heritage and historical context is to be cut from the picture to maintain the comfortable status quo?’
Meanwhile, ARTEF as an organisation, including its members as individuals, have received abhorrent emails and offensive remarks that show not only a lack of understanding of our work and mission but also how all forms of racist rhetoric are too easily employed.
We do not take lightly the fact that those in the industry who created this scenario in the first place, are framing ARTEF's collaborative efforts as hostile while making accusatory remarks of our work.
These reactions are expected when doing anti-racist work. This highlights how little we think about the visible minorities in our industry, and more widely, in society.
Imagination is not a neutral space. It is a domain of history and culture that has real life impact. And minority representation does not mean minority worth.
ARTEF’s mission is to address institutional racism in the European film industry and work with stakeholders to create awareness about the existing problems, provide targeted education through training and guide institutions to find their solutions. Our primary focus are European film institutions responsible for upholding the structures that enable racist discrimination and exclusion. In addressing those, we prioritise the voices and lived experiences of those affected by racism in the film industry.
ARTEF is not a watchdog, we exist inside the industry and merely identify problems and the systems that support them. Equally, we hope to act as a beacon for those who have experienced or have observed things that are harmful for BIPOC in the industry. Our interest is to work with institutions, organisations, companies and networks — not against them.
It is not ARTEF’s intention to blame individuals. When we point out specific problematic examples of racism in the European film industry, it is always with the goal to circle back, and dismantle the structures that enabled this in the first place, while collaboratively rebuilding a more equitable European film industry
Our intentions remain to continue the conversation about the structural problems that led to a film with Blackface and animalisation of Black people being played at the Berlinale. We also want to reduce the harm that these structural problems are doing to BIPOC children and adults.
This statement was actioned by a majority vote from the ARTEF steering committee.