Small boy, big voice (2015)

In 2015 the Austrian channel ORF and the German channel ARD collaborated to produce Kleine grosse Stimme, a film about a black boy in Austria in 1955. Benedikt, the son of an African-American soldier and a white Austrian mother, is raised by his grandparents but chafes under the yoke of his racist grandfather. Seeking a place in a society that doesn’t seem to fit him, he runs away to join the Vienna Boys’ Choir. There he encounters racism among his mates as well as among some of the teachers but also finds support from an Austrian Jewish choirmaster who had survived the Holocaust and the choir’s Christian secretary. In the end, the choir comes to see that their prejudice was wrong and Benedikt is brought together with his biological father, who had been in Vienna the whole time. The film ends with an interesting twist, a re-writing of the story in the film Toxi (link). When his father goes back to the United States, Benedikt decides that his place is in Austria, where he has found acceptance among a younger generation building a brighter future, moving on from National Socialism.

The film’s fairy-tale ending does not reflect the experiences of most mixed-race children of the occupation, and it glosses over the continuing difficulties of dealing with the Nazi past in Austria. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy for the way it connects the persistence of antisemitism and anti-black racism after 1945 and tries to write black children into a hopeful Austrian national narrative, even if they have to bear the burden of educating white Austrians about prejudice.

Jeff Bowersox



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