Having received numerous racially-charged death threats in the past, film director and journalist Mo Asumang came to Yale last night to discuss the history of violence in Neo-Nazi groups across the world.
Yesterday evening, the department of Germanic Languages and Literatures screened Asumang’s “Die Arier” to an audience of over 100 people in William L. Harkness Hall. The film, whose title translates to “The Aryans”, is a documentary in which Asumang journeys across several countries in search of the meaning of the term “Aryan,” uncovering the roots of Neo-Nazi racism and ethnic hostility in the process. In a discussion that followed the screening, Asumang — who is the daughter of a Ghanaian father and a German mother — said she hopes that her film will raise awareness about the extent to which racism prevails in the modern world.
“It is very important for me. The fight against racism is very heavy, but what I went through is positive,” Asumang said.
Seeking to open up the remaining enclaves of racism in an ever-growing, globalized world, the film depicts Asumang confronting and attempting to interview protestors at Neo-Nazi rallies in Eastern Germany. Then, questions over the meaning of the word “Aryan” take her to a small village in Iran, where she expects to find individuals who fit the historically accurate definition of the term. In their conversations, these people tell her that “Aryan” has been distorted for purposes of hate and war — a tragic misinterpretation of a word that originally refers to a people who abide by principles of love and peace. Asumang then travels to Montgomery, Alabama, where she interviewed Ku Klux Klan members and a former undercover FBI agent, whose work led him to infiltrate an American Neo-Nazi organization.
In her talk, Asumang explained that she was largely inspired to make the film by an incident in which she received death threats from a group known as the “White Aryan Rebels,” adding that the film is her attempt at both engaging in an act of profound self-reflection, and making forward strides in a struggle against racism. The screen, she noted, was her opportunity to “change the little things,” while at the same time questioning the beliefs of those whom she called “hate-sellers” — racists who actively promote hate as a means for them to generate revenue. When people do not question the facts they are presented, she explained, they are blind and can become intoxicated with racism.
“This racism thing only works if you fuel it with hate,” she noted. It is important to attempt to soothe this, she added.
Many members of the audience were not only surprised by the emotional depth of the film, but also by the terrifying prevalence of racism in the modern world.
Asumang added that she would persist with her personal exploration of racism, seeking not only to “find out more about [herself and her] humanity,” but also to discover more ways in which countries struggle to self-identify their roots. The question of her own nationality — and its relation to the term Aryan — remains at the center of her personal fight against racism.
Audience members interviewed said they were emotionally moved by the level of racism in Germany and the United States, as depicted in the film.
“Asumang did an amazing job at highlighting the absurdity of believing in any sort of racial supremacy,” said Tim Rudner ’16.
Dhruv Chand Aggarwal ’16 added that he enjoyed the way Asumang contrasted the persistence of racism across countries.
“Die Arier” was nominated for the “Prize of the Ecumenic Jury” at the Achtung Berlin Film Festival.