"I Don't Care What People Think of Me": Fatih Akin's Self-staging in the Media
Akin himself consistently highlights the autobiographical nature of his films. At the same time, he reminds us of their fictional character. Even though his personal background is certainly present in his films, Akin states that questions of nationality are less important for him in his work. Instead, priority is given to "archaic" human questions such as love, pain, self-destruction, and self-discovery (Reicher 2005). He argues, for instance, that Head-On does not represent the Turkish minority but rather conveys the story of two outsiders in a society of outsiders. And the story of The Edge of Heaven, he states elsewhere, could also take place in New York or Berlin (Jahner 2007). Asked why his protagonists always go (back) to Turkey, Akin explains that for him, Turkey is only an image, a symbol of freedom (Herpell 2009)—a place of longing and redemption that the protagonists never find. In Soul Kitchen, on the other hand, the protagonists are not in search of identity or belonging anymore; rather, they defend what they already possess: their Heimat (Behrens 2009; Borcholte 2009).
According to Akin, it is no longer necessary to discuss the Turkish German relationship in cinema: the emancipation of the young filmmakers of Turkish descent, born and raised in Germany, has already been accomplished (Farzanefar 2003). He sees himself as a German filmmaker (Philipp 2007) and calls his categorization as a Turkish German filmmaker a false perception. He does not make "immigrant films" but personal films about the subjects he knows best (Langrock-Kogel and Jakobs 2004).
Answering the question of whether Istanbul is a place of longing for him, Akin points out that Istanbul represented an entirely foreign world to him as a child but is now no longer so distant and thus no longer a place of longing. Rather, it is a city in which many things are possible and where everything is in a permanent state of flux (Beier and Matussek 2007). Akin describes his view on Istanbul as simultaneously being that of a tourist and of someone for whom it is a second home (Langrock-Kogel and Jakobs 2004). In another interview, Akin explains how Istanbul has taken on an increasingly significant role in his life. Hamburg, on the other hand, Akin calls his hometown (Lau 2004). Elsewhere, Akin states that his ethnic belonging (European or Asian) "is a mixture of contradictions. It is both and neither. It is in the middle" (Bauer 2005). Asked about his role as a mediator between the cultures, Akin replies: "To be honest: I don't care anymore what people think of me. I can't change it anyway" (Durr and Wellershoff 2005). Yet how are we to judge Akin's supposed indifference regarding his public image, given that he is very actively engaged in the construction of a highly marketable public persona? Akin certainly knows how to broadcast a certain image of himself (Erdogan 2009: 27). In interviews and DVD bonus materials, Akin addresses his dual sense of belonging on numerous occasions. He explicitly refuses to be pigeonholed as German, Turkish, or Turkish German. Yet by engaging ex negativo with the prevalent identitarian discourses, Akin is able to use them to his own advantage, capturing the fascination of his audience and the media with his bicultural heritage and his transnational identity as a filmmaker. By consistently commenting on the content of his films and on his own identity, Akin maintains control over his work and engages in an act of authorial self-staging. Furthermore, by explicitly linking his films through an authorial signature, Akin encourages us to see each film as part of his oeuvre (Wexman 2003: 45). Highlighting the autobiographical character of his films, Akin himself blurs the boundaries between his films and reality. Presenting himself as a different persona in each DVD interview, Akin provides us with a public self-image of upward social mobility: from the gangster and hip- hop milieu portrayed in the bonus material of Short Sharp Shock to an intellectually engaged Akin in The Edge of Heaven to the visibly relaxed Akin commenting on Soul Kitchen while lying on a kind of deck chair. The success of Akin's films certainly owes much to their exploration of global questions of mobility, belonging, border crossings, and crosscultural identities. Yet I would argue that beyond the quality of his films, it is Akin's projection of himself as a citizen of the world, while simultaneously upholding his unquestioned local attachments to Hamburg-Altona, that secures his success. In her discussion of Akin's diasporic documentary Wir haben vergessen zuruckzukehren (We Forgot to Go Back, 2001) in this volume, Angelica Fenner utilizes Svetlana Boym's concept of nostalgia in the globalized world—a concept that can be used to describe the success of the "phenomenon Akin" in general: in his longing for a home that has never existed, Akin embodies a universal "longing for continuity in a fragmented world" (Boym 2001: xvi). As a migrant, he can project his nostalgia onto an imagined homeland. At the same time, Akin is a master at finding the balance between nostalgic longing and a reconciliatory, down-to-earth celebration of Heimat and belonging. This capturing of the modern nostalgia, coupled with his easy-going and straightforward public persona, for which he repeatedly claims authenticity, accounts for much of the immense media attention Akin manages to draw and retain both in Germany and abroad.