Becoming Black

Becoming Black

Ines Johnson-Spain


»In a country where any deviation from its norm was considered an existential threat, the birth of a black child must have been a political issue.« –Ines Johnson-Spain

It’s the start of the 1960s in the GDR: Sigrid, from Leipzig, falls in love with Lucien, a student from Togo, and gets pregnant. But she’s married to Armin, and they already have a son together. The couple let their dark-skinned daughter believe that her skin colour is a coincidence and not significant, until she discovers the truth by chance as a teenager. Decades later, long after she has met her biological father’s family in Togo, she reconstructs her family history in a film as both protagonist and author.

In emotional and open conversations with her stepfather Armin, the atmosphere of silence and suppression is very much in evidence. It slowly becomes clear how the social milieu has to be structured in order to make such a major denial of facts possible.

Here too, private matters are political. In an intimate exploration of her own identity, Ines Johnson-Spain traces the taboo topic overshadowing her childhood and in doing so also exposes an underlying racism residing in the GDR. In the context of the touching encounter with her Togolese family whom she discovered so late in her life, the film becomes a reflection on identity, family concepts and social norms. From the 1960s in East Berlin to the present day, this intimate, moving self-portrait reveals a wise and hitherto unwritten German story.

Director / Script

Ines Johnson-Spain


Sebastian Winkels, Anne Misselwitz


Yana Höhnerbach


Corneille Houssou, Ulla Kösterke, Manuela Schininá

Sound Design

Brooke Tresize


Jean-Paul Bourelly


Anahita Nazemi, Kobalt Documentary


Rushlake Media Africa

Portrait of Ines Johnson-Spain

Ines Johnson-Spain

Ines Johnson-Spain is a German-Togolese film-maker from Berlin. She studied religious studies at Freie Universität Berlin and was a guest student at Berlin University of the Arts. She worked for many years as a scenic painter for national and international film productions and theatre. Today, she teaches scenic painting at Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF. Her film Becoming Black premiered internationally in 2019 at IDFA and was the opening film at IFFF Dortmund-Köln in 2020

Films by Ines Johnson-Spain
Having and Being 2016 | L’Esprit de Madjid 2009 | La Petite Difference 2005