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THE LOCAL INTERVIEWS - SIBEL KEKILLI

FILM

Game of Thrones star on violence against women

German-Turkish actress Sibel Kekilli has reached international stardom through her role as the beautiful Shae in the fantasy TV drama Game of Thrones. She talks to The Local about her character and violence against women.

Game of Thrones star on violence against women
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Shae (Sibel Kekilli) in Game of Thrones. Photo: Sky

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Kekilli, who has a regular role in the popular German crime show Tatort, never planned to become an actress. It was her discovery at a shopping mall in Cologne by a casting director, that ultimately won her the lead role in Fatih Akin's 2004 film Gegen die Wand (Head-On in English).

The film went on to win awards and was a huge international success, changing Kekilli's life forever. “After that film, my acting career began. Nothing was ever the same again," she says.

Her character Shae in Game of Thrones is no stranger to having her life turned around by a single event either.

Working as a prostitute, her luck changes when she meets one of the series' main characters Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) from the powerful and noble House of Lannister, the night before he goes to battle. She is secretly whisked away by Tyrion with a promise of a better life and riches in far off lands.

“Shae runs away with Tyrion because they fell in love with each other," Kekilli said. "She started to believe she would have a family with a man who loves her exactly the way she is.”

Initially portrayed as an opportunist, Sibel does not believe her character is using Tyrion for his resources. “She is not interested in power or money. Yes, at the beginning she was but not anymore. Shae would die for Tyrion,” she says.

The 33-year-old says she is proud of the way women are portrayed in the show. She told The Local that Game of Thrones is one of the first shows where women are equal to men.

“They are manipulative, dangerous, fighters and intelligent. George R. R. Martin, Dan and David are wonderful writers and you can feel that they love their female characters. Shae is one of these strong women," she says.

There has been controversy about the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct towards women in Game of Thrones, but Kekilli dismisses the criticism. “The violence in the show is not only towards women, but in many scenes also towards children and of course men. It is an important part of the show. Every turn of the story seems to be consequent and somehow reasonable.”

Growing up in Baden-Württemberg in a Turkish Muslim family, Kekilli was faced with two completely different cultures, which she describes as “a German open-minded culture on one side and a traditional Turkish culture on the other".

As an active member of the organization Terre des Femmes (a non-profit women's rights organization founded in 1981 in Hamburg) the actress has publicly voiced her opinions on violence in Muslim families against women.

She told The Local, “I know that violence is part of the Muslim culture. Most of the violence is against women. It’s a shame that some people are using it as an excuse to beat or even kill out of religious purposes. Every religion can be peaceful if you really understand it.”, she told The Local.

After the astounding success of Game of Thrones, many actresses would be heading for the Hollywood Hills, but Kekilli says her plans are closer to home. “Games of Thrones has given me a very special start in Hollywood. There are indeed some movies in the pipeline, but they are here in Germany – although I would love to work in an English-speaking TV series or a movie. Let’s see…”

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WOMEN

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)

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