An encounter with the stars

Dear readers/Liebe Leser_innen,

On Tuesday, I was near Leipzig to attend a showing of the new German film Fack ju Göhte 3 (F*ck you Goethe 3) where the director, Bora Dagtekin, and the star of the film, Elyas M'Barek, were also in attendance. They arrived about 40 minutes before the film was to start and signed autographs, took selfies and chatted with the 300-400 adoring fans (my rough estimate - the theater was small and in the middle of nowhere). The crowd, mainly consisting of young German women from the area, was relatively tame, but when prompted they would cheer and scream. A few girls began yelling for the actor, who is admittedly very attractive, to take off his clothes. I scoffed, being the older, academic snob in the crowd who was not a parent (I was asked by staff if I was "with the press" - clearly I didn't fit in), and loudly proclaimed: "Ich bitte euch, das muss aber nicht sein, ne?" ("Come on, is that really necessary?") The girls, in a frenzy and clamoring for attention from their beloved Elyas, could not control themselves. Screaming out something like that, however, made me think of a few things that I would like to address here.

In light of the recent Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and now Dustin Hoffmann revelations, there are many problems with the cult of the film celebrity. The men in these cases used their power and clout to influence women and men for their own sexual pleasure. To put it plainly, they raped, assaulted or harassed others. This is a sensitive subject, and I do not have the heart to say much more about it here being a victim myself, but obviously this behavior is wrong in all its forms. What is noteworthy is that we often inadvertently protect the celebrities, the victims withholding their trauma often for far too long, because we cannot believe that the people we once looked up to were "like that." Since the days of Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926), the film industry has perpetuated this idea that celebrities are perfect, superhuman beings. Scandals covered up, rumors of homosexuality or lesbianism vehemently denied, abhorrent behavior swept under the rug. Even if the "ugly truth" manages to come to light, we still worship them, adore them, follow their every move, want to know everything about them and give them Oscars. It goes without saying that there is something inherently wrong with this. We can enjoy and appreciate the film stars' work - I am, as many of you know, a massive film fan and that was my reason for traveling to Leipzig for the film event - but there needs to be limits.

This brings me to my next point: celebrities are "regular people" - the oft-touted "just like us" photos and columns try to prove it - and we have to remember that they have feelings, needs, fears and insecurities, and need to be held accountable to the same standards as anyone else. Not only should they respect non-celebrities, but we should respect them (and their privacy), too. Shouting at an actor for him to take his clothes off in public, however, shows an insensitivity to the fact that he is a person. This is unnerving when 15 year old girls act in such a manner. Elyas M'Barek is not an object - just like none of the women and men assaulted by the Weinsteins, Afflecks or Spaceys of the film industry are objects. Our culture is slowly changing where victims now feel they can step forward post-assault and I hope that this positive (albeit stemming from a negative) trend will continue. We need to treat each other with respect and dignity, admit we are human and fully own up to our mistakes, no matter how damaging or hurtful. We unfortunately need to fight quite a lot to change the way we think and get beyond a culture of objectification of all bodies.

Back to the theater near Leipzig - after I politely waited for my selfies and autographs, thanking and chatting with the two very famous-in-Germany gentlemen, I took my front row seat in the theater. A teenage girl directly behind me shouted out "ausziehen!" ("take it off!") at Elyas when Bora Dagtekin fielded questions from the audience. I turned to her and said: "Er ist aber auch nur ein Mensch." ("He's also a human being.") Elyas, standing only a few feet away, looked at me, nodding in solidarity and, I think, with a hint of gratitude. "Ja, ich bin auch nur ein Mensch" ("Yes, I am also a human being"), he responded.

I did not take the time to see if our exchange sank in with the girl, who was sitting between her silent parents as the moment transpired, but it made me realize that his response revealed these issues I outlined above. We often do not associate the person we admire from the movies with a human being with feelings. But this applies in general to the fact that we often forget to think about others and how our actions and words might effect them. We can love our film stars and directors, cheer for them, applaud their work and performances, thank them for the joy their films bring us, but we also have to acknowledge there is a line between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior. And it goes both ways, from celebrity to non-celebrity and vice versa.
Me with director Bora Dagtekin
The selfie-king, Elyas M'Barek

I am standing to the left of Bora Dagtekin in the top picture (Saalfoto 1), holding up a life-size poster of Elyas M'Barek (sadly, it was not mine)

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