An Actress's Thoughts

More Murders: Germany’s Top Cop Drama TATORT 2021

It won’t come as a big surprise to regular readers of SchspIN that I’m not a big TATORT fan. In addition, since the escalation of Russia’s years-long war against Ukraine in February 2022, there have been so many news stories of murdered, tortured civilians, raped women, abducted children, that I don’t want to see any more – even fictional – brutal violence against people.

Nevertheless, Germany’s top cop drama TATORT is a good indicator of possible gender imbalances in front of and behind the camera in German television; they are the 90-minute format with the highest budgets, the greatest reputation and the highest measured and extrapolated ratings (which, however, are not without controversy, but that would be a topic for another day). And a statistical view is also possible without having seen TATORTs.

More Murders: the 33 TATORTs 2021

  • Director, Writer, DoP, Sound Mixer, Editor, Composer
  • Always a favourite: Dead Young Women
  • Police Crime Statistics for 2020 (Germany)
  • And what about the Male Victims?
  • Targeting Female Detectives
  • Dear Decision-Makers

Recently several people approached me, filmmakers from various departments, regarding TATORTs 2021 and what might be the situation regarding the participation of women in the core departments. Therefore, here and today let’s look at the annual 6-departments-check:

Director, Writer, DoP, Sound Mixer, Editor, Composer

The share of female directors is still over 40 %, which is good news. There were 14 female and 19 male directors, including one twice: Torsten C. Fischer for DER TOD DER ANDEREN in Cologne and DER KALTE UND DIE TOTEN in Berlin.

At the same time, however, the share of female writers is again below 20 %, which means that four fifths of the writers involved were male. They are the ones who ‘invented’ the cases, wrote the stories and developed the events around the investigation teams, some of whom have been solving cases for many years. The question is how much a director can still change in the plot, unless they also wrote the script, were involved in it or had rewriting rights. Their number is surprisingly high.

Four directors were solely responsible for their scripts: Tom Bohn (HETZJAGD) and Martin Eigler (DER BÖSE KÖNIG), both in Ludwigshafen. Petra Lüschow (WER ZÖGERT, IST TOT) in Frankfurt and Niki Stein (MACHT DER FAMILIE) in Hamburg. Co-authors or writers‘ duos were Katharina Bischof with Johanna Thalmann (LUNA FRISST ODER STIRBT) in Frankfurt, Dietrich Brüggemann with Daniel Bickermann (DAS IST UNSER HAUS) in Stuttgart and Jan Martin Scharf with Arne Nolting (DER REIZ DES BÖSEN) in Cologne. There was no overlap between the two departments in the other 26 Tatorten.

Let‘s investigate the script situation a little further: in the first half of 2021 only two out of twenty scripts were written by women, Elke Schuch wrote RHYTHM AND LOVE (Münster) and Katrin Bühling DIE DRITTE HAUT (Berlin). That’s ten per cent. By the end of the year, five female authors were added, which sounds great at first, because after all, there were only 13 crime scenes in the second half of the year. So just under 40 %? Almost. But not really, because of the five female writers, only Petra Lüschow (WER ZÖGERT, IST TOT. Frankfurt) wrote her TV movie alone. Four TATORTs by women only, two more with female participation. And on the other hand, twenty-seven TATORTs by men and two more in teams with women. That makes a total of 35. No, of course 33. (In fact, I’m trying to keep my spirits up a bit while writing because there is so little positive to report on the scripts, unfortunately.)

Only two authors wrote more than one TATORT script in 2021: Arne Nolting, together with David Sandreuter and Jan Martin Scharf, wrote TÖDLICHE FLUT for Hamburg, and with Jan Martin Scharf DER REIZ DES BÖSEN for Cologne. And Johanna Thalmann, who wrote LUNA FRISST ODER STIRBT with Katharina Bischof, and formed a team with Moritz Binder for DREAMS in Munich.

And what was the situation for female filmmakers in other departments? The proportion of female cinematographers rose above 20 % for the first time since I started these evaluations in 2011, with six female cinematographers, Cornelia Janssen (HETZJAGD and BLIND DATE), Katharina Diessner (WIE ALEREN AUCH), Judith Kaufmann (BOROWSKI UND DER GUTE MENSCH), Julia Daschner (LUNA FRISST ODER STIRBT), Leah Striker (UND IMMER GEWINT DIE NACHT) and Bella Halben (ALLES KOMMT ZURÜCK).

After three zero-years, there is at last one female sound mixer in 2021, Antje Volkmann – with whom I have worked already! She pushes the percentage of women to 5.4 %, as she was the sound mixer on two Dresden cases: one on her own (UNSICHTBAR) and one together with Erich Lutz (RETTUNG SO NAH).

Women edited just under 60 % of all TATORTs and took part as composers in, er, 4 %. The music for the 35 TATORTs was composed by two women and 48 men: Iva Zabkar, solely responsible for VERSCHWÖRUNG in Vienna, and Jasmin Shakeri in Bremen (NEUGEBOREN) together with the duo Beathoavenz.

As always, I also did a roles analysis of the first-named characters and the main cast, i.e. the actors named on the ARD website. Good statistical news: the proportion of women among the first-named roles, i.e. the respective number one on the cast sheet, is 45.5 %. And – even more astonishing – the proportion of women in the main cast is 46.9 %. So there has been quite a bit of change.

I don’t know what these roles did and said because I don’t know the scripts or the films. However, the ARD website provides a short description of the plot for each case, and I would like to conclude with this.

Always a favourite: Dead Young Women

The presumed favourite corpse group of German crime scriptwriters are the “young women”, so probably the 14- to under 25-year-olds. This can be seen again and again in TATORTs and other TV thrillers (see also TV Cop Dramas – Actresses can do more than play Victims. SchspIN 12.2.2020)

In four of the thirty-three 2021 TATORTs the murder victim is described as a “young woman” (see the synopses on the ARD channel’s website), additionally there are two murdered women aged 18 and 19 who are mentioned by (first) name and profession. The following sentences are the first sentences of the descriptions: 

After a fire in the basement of the Gerberzentrum, a high-rise housing estate in Dortmund, the charred body of a young woman is found.

The abused body of a young woman is found on a wasteland near a popular club in Kiel.

Alarm in Kiel: During a riot in the forensic clinic, the woman-murderer Kai Korthals manages to escape from security custody. (…) 2nd paragraph: Then the body of a young woman is found on the shore of a lake.

A Weekend in Berlin: Partygoers and revelers wander the wintry streets in search of an unforgettable night. A young woman finds a suitable date in the couple Dennis Ziegler and Julia Hoff via a dating app. The next morning, a body is found near Dennis’ flat. Her face is disfigured so that identification seems impossible.

Schoolgirl Jessi (18) has a date. But not at the disco, she sets off for the nearby forest on the outskirts of town. A short time later she is dead.

After the release party for her debut novel, 19-year-old author Luise Nathan is found dead.

Six out of 33 cases, that is about 20 %, every fifth TATORT film. In German reality, according to the German police crime statistics for 2020 – the one for 2021 has not yet been published – girls and women aged 14 to 25 account for only 6.6 % of all murder victims.

Another TATORT murder victim was under 30:

Sudden cardiac arrest at only 29: Anna Schneider collapses dead in broad daylight on the street outside her café.

Another murdered woman, a little older:

Four weeks earlier, the members of the Oase Ostfildern building community moved into their building and already the foundation has to be dug up again because of a leakage problem. An even bigger problem comes to light: an unidentifiable female corpse.

The description on Wikipedia adds that it was an approximately 40-year-old woman. Two other murdered women are presumed to be a similar age:

Susanne Elvan met her husband Tarek, a convicted violent criminal, via a pen pal portal during his imprisonment. The wedding took place before his release. When Susanne is found murdered, Tarek had just been released earlier.

The actress Neshe Demir was 42 years old at the time of the shooting.

Someone anonymously reports the discovery of a dead body in a desolate residential area in the early hours of the morning. Jana Gruber has been assaulted and brutally killed in her house. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the woman worked as a prostitute and that she had a child.

First “brutally killed“, shortly afterwards “a prostitute“. Another classic TV stereotype for murdered women. The actress Susi Ramberger was also 42 years old when the film was shot.

German Criminal Statistics for 2020

The following diagram shows Germany’s reality concerning the age distribution of murdered women and men. By far the largest group in 2020 were women aged 60 or older, they accounted for 17.5 % of all murdered women and men. How many of them may have been victims of domestic violence, were killed by their husbands or their sons?



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