Zara Leander. From Nazi Starlett to Gay Icon


Essay, 2015

6 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Excerpt

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the country to work in Hollywood. Along with Jewish creatives, many other Germans from the
industry left the country in protest of the regime or to flee persecution.
At the same time movies were used to justify and spread anti-semitism as well as other
messages wanted by the newly created Reich Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and
Propaganda under Joseph Goebells (Brockmann 133-134). Goebells saw movies both as a way
to relax and indoctrinate people, as a "popular art with the potential to have a powerful impact
on large segments of the population" (Brockmann 138). According to him propaganda was most
effective when used covertly and not overtly (Brockmann 142). Hence, a clear distinction
between political propaganda and harmless entertainment is difficult to make. Therefore it is
not surprising that a minority of films produced by the Ufa between 1933 and 1945 can be
simply labelled as propaganda. The majority of movies resembled in genre, style and structure
the movies that were made in Hollywood at the same time (Brockmann 139). Nevertheless,
most of these movies were still anti-sematic on some level and greatly emphasised especially
the Nazis' views on the role of women in society.
The entertainment factor of cinema (and radio) became especially important during the
height of war. The chief aim of entertainment at that time was to make people happy and use
storytelling and visuals to endue optimism (Brockmann 145). Leander's later movies, namely
Wunschkonzert
and Die Große Liebe perfectly fit into this category of Durchhaltefilme (getting-
through-it-film).
Die Große Liebe was released in 1942 shortly before the turning point of the war.
Despite first air strikes hitting German soil and the war already dragging on, nearly 27 million
people, about half of the population of Germany at the time, saw the movie. The fundamental
message of the movie was that "although hard times will come, and although it will be difficult
to get through them, we most soldier on together [...] and make the best of it" (Brockmann
169). Music, and Leander as the one singing and performing it, played an important role in
creating this message. Songs like Davon geht die Welt nicht unter (It's not the End of

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Everything) and Es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh'n (Someday a Miracle will happen)
summed up the pain and joy of Germans going through war while affirming the belief that
miracles do happen and that true love will conquer all, especially in the midst of war
(Brockmann 168 & 176). Music, as well as Leander in her role as a vampy singer finding her
role as a devoted wife to a solider, therefore helped to create a national community, a
Volksgemeinschaft
, within the movie and aiming to transfer it to the outside, that would be able
to be victorious over the enemy (Bockmann 178).
Leander has during most of her life portrayed herself as apolitical and naïve. Others
have supported that characterisation of her (Ascheid 160). It is therefore difficult to say how
involved she was with Nazi ideology. It is hard to believe though, that the aim and atmosphere
in the Ufa and in the movies would have been able to escape her. She left Germany in 1943,
not renewing her contract and did not return until after the Second World War (Kuzniar 59).
Becoming a Gay Icon
Despite her affiliation with the Nazi-regime, Leander has been and still is an icon of gay
culture, especially in Germany (Brockmann 173). There is no one interpretation where this
appeal came from and interpretations of her and of her admirers are changing with the context
of time and society.
There are key points that have been identified by scholars over the decades. Most of
them, in one way or the other, emphasise Leander's role as either a point of identification or a
substitute for the desires and struggles of gay men, especially during and right after the time of
the Nazi-regime. Her sexual ambiguity or gender confusion, with her low voice, height and
domineering presence, play a big role in both of these points.
Cross-gender identification is a queer act in itself. An important part for the
identification of gay men with Leander during the Nazi-regime and in the time after, when
homosexuality was still illegal and punishable under paragraph 175, was who she played in her
movies and what circumstances her heroines had to face. Leander often played complex roles

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in often oppressive or adverse circumstances ­ a femme fatal, a mother, martyr, lover and
independent woman. These different roles were negotiated inside the movie. The struggle of
having coexisting and conflicting roles, in the invisibility and illegality of gay men in the 1950s,
was something they could easily relate to. In the end her struggle was something to "channel
unfulfilled dreams and longings" (Kuzniar 62) and she offered "protection for outsiders, who
with her help could dream of a safe alternative world despite the threatening environment"
(Kuzniar 62). Aside from her struggles negotiating her own role in society, a point of
identification was also the plots of many of her movies. In movies like La Habanera and Zu
neuen Ufern
, she marries men she does not desire even though they conform to the social norm
of a conventional marriage. Her desire is therefore permanently unanswered, ending with her
being full of longing, loneliness and melancholy. Her stylised pain offered a platform for those
people in the closet, which was beautiful and transcendent in a way a realistic portrayal would
not have allowed (Kuzniar 65).
Leander's voice is a key factor in her role as a substitute. Just listening to her low, deep,
often called masculine voice singing about love could induce the image that the topic wasn't
heteronormative but actually queer. Songs like Kann denn Liebe Sünde sein? (Can love be a
sin?) were especially reaffirming in an oppressive society. In addition, many of the songs she
sang were written by gay composer Bruno Balz (Kuzniar 63) who put his own desires into his
music. Therefore, she gave his desires a voice, reflecting them back on the audience.
The other point of substitution is found on a physical level. Leander was a very tall
woman, broad shouldered, with a flat chest and distinctive, nearly hard, features. Her voice only
underlined the impression of a masculine women. It went so far that they had to create her
femininity for the movies, using costume, accessories and lighting. To queer men and especially
transvestites, cross-dressers or transwomen, this act of femininity was a substitute for desires
they had not answered anywhere else.
Excerpt out of 6 pages

Details

Title
Zara Leander. From Nazi Starlett to Gay Icon
Grade
1,3
Author
Year
2015
Pages
6
Catalog Number
V376365
ISBN (eBook)
9783668536920
File size
669 KB
Language
English
Tags
zara, leander, from, nazi, starlett, icon
Quote paper
Sian Birkner (Author), 2015, Zara Leander. From Nazi Starlett to Gay Icon, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/376365

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