Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Cara Bohmann
Dreckfresser – Dirt for Dinner
This documentary from 2000 by Branwen Okpako tells the story of Samuel Njankouo Meffire, son of a Cameroonian father and German mother, Samuel became a figurehead for diversity in the city of Dresden when his portrait was used in a campaign against “Ausländerfeindlichkeit” or xenophobia. His story, however, takes on the form of true tragedy in what happens afterwards. Sam was a police officer and after the campaign his position as the “first Afro-German Police Officer” sent him into a stardom of sorts, with many interviews and famous friendships, including one with the Minister of the Interior of Saxony, Heinz Eggert. However, Sam was frustrated with justice system’s slow process and his inability to work fast enough to prevent crime due to bureaucracy. Finally, he left the department after he kept running into problems with his superiors concerning the legality of his behavior during investigations. On his continued quest for justice fighting, he fell into the world of crime, robbing for money. After fleeing the country, he was eventually arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison on several different charges including armed robbery and assault.
The film uses a lot of stylistic elements to keep viewers on their toes. Interspersed clips of violence and movement/commotion cut between the interviews, reminding the viewer of what is being depicted but also never letting them truly sit back comfortably during their viewing of this documentary. The dramatic reading of Sam Meffire’s poem also serves this purpose. All of these cuts serve to the furthered bluntness of the information slowly being revealed over the course of the film. Statements of clear racism, such as the story of Sam’s father’s murder, are presented in an abrupt way so as to make the audience even more aware of the hypocritical double standard between what the white Germans say they feel about racism and Sam’s story, what systematic oppression actually occurs in the clips. All of this, makes Sam’s behavior not seem so disoriented.
In my opinion, Sam’s tragic story situates itself at the core with issues of socially constructed ethnicity and lack of a relationship with the larger society of Dresden and Germany, in particular for the biracial community of Germany. Sam Meffire wrote a poem entitled “Dreckfresser” which actually translates to “eater of dirt” more directly. A longtime friend of his, who is interviewed in this documentary, discusses how he felt Sam was always very “intense” about his “paranoia” regarding his race in German society and how Sam wrote this poem in reference to his “eating too much dirt and never being able to cough it up again.” This friend believes the “dirt-eater” is a reference to all those who have fallen into crime and now are “no better than filth” (as Sam himself put it). The word “Dreck” in German has more negative connotation here than the English word “dirt.” “Dreckfresser” needs to be considered therefore as something even viler than just something along the lines of “an eater of soil” but rather a filth found under deeper layers of disgust and unworthiness. This friend does not understand why Sam was always so concerned about the potential to be attacked, whether by racist verbal attacks or physical ones. However, as we see throughout the film, Sam is put on a pedestal when he becomes the righteous and politically correct/endorsed symbol of all Afro-Germans in the German Republic as the “first Black Police Officer” and this puts colossal pressure on him to remain the perfect symbol for Black Germans. It also isolates Sam further from his community among the officers and the population of Dresden, which is almost completely white. Sam, a biracial individual, tried to face racism and xenophobia by being an upstanding citizen and becoming a police officer in an area of often violent racism (especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall) but still could not escape “the dirt” he constantly faced. In a piece written by Giovanni di Lorenzo in 19931, Sam says he wants to live in Germany, not just survive there, but the dirt that society kept throwing at him through racist and xenophobic means was too much to bear.
– Cara Bohmann