Through Cinema to Justice: Sex Education Film and Activism in Germany's Revolutionary Moment

Online talk by Sara Friedman as part of the seminar series Cultures of Legality in Weimar Germany

Date: 29th April 2024
Time: 18.00 h to 19.00 h
Location: Online via Zoom


My research asks how people think they can enact change. The Weimar Republic was borne of defeat but also of revolution; the revolution brought with it a new political imaginary resting on an enfranchised, empowered citizenry. The new democracy opened up possibilities that did not exist before; its provisional government expanded workers’ rights, extended suffrage to women, and abolished censorship. Further emancipations of society’s most marginalized seemed within reach. This moment was later described as a “dreamland,” the revolution having absolved Germany of the lost war in November 1918 and not yet anticipating the putative Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

The interwar period also featured a different dreamland: the mass medium of film. Film transformed imaginaries into two-dimensional reality, and for some progressive reformers, it allowed them to literally envision a better world. I use the LGBTQ+ rights film Anders als die Andern [Different from the Others], which premiered in the spring of 1919,  to provide a unique window into the Weimar Republic’s potential to ensure justice for all of its citizens. Through melodrama and a sexologist’s lecture, Anders als die Andern argued against § 175 of the penal code, which criminalized male homosexuality, and it encouraged the societal acceptance of all sexual minorities. Anders als die Andern was a commercial success, but its main effect was to scandalize the country so thoroughly that a new federal censorship law – only for film – was passed. Using this film as a case study chronicles continuities running from prewar Wilhelmine Germany through the war itself, situating some of the Republic’s emancipatory impulses in turn-of-the-century liberal and socialistic impulses. It shows the hopes but also the limits of tolerance for marginalized people in a fast-modernizing, democratizing society. It argues for the centrality of a new medium, in this case film, in pushing for societal change.

Sara Friedman is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of History at the University of California Berkeley, after receiving a PhD there in 2023. Recent publications include 'Universal Language with a German Accent: Conrad Veidt in Silent Hollywood' in the German Studies Review and 'Afterlives of Anders als die Andern' in Central European History.

The seminar series is part of the project Imagining Justice: Law, Politics and Popular Visual Culture in Weimar Germany, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

International Start Times: 17:00h BST / 09:00 PST