So Much More Than Stereotypes: Adetokumboh M’Cormack on his short film "The German King"
Adetokumboh M'Cormack is best known for his acting career, appearing in films like Blood Diamond and Captain America: Winter Soldier; however, his gradual transition to the director’s chair in 2016 has proven that M'Cormack is a man of many talents, with a promising career as a writer, director, AND producer. His latest effort, The German King, tells the true story of the German raised African King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell and is sure to fill your sails with inspiration.
Set in 1914, The German King is the true story of Rudolf Douala Manga Bell; a German raised African prince who rebels against Kaiser Wilhelm II’s oppressive colonial rule at the start of World War 1.
The film earned Adetokumboh the Best Actor award at the Rhode Island International Film festival and received the Best Ohio Short Film Award at Cindependent Film Festival, in addition to screening at prestigious film festivals, such as LA Shorts and Hollyshorts. We had the opportunity to talk to Adetokumboh about the film, the pains of creating a period piece, his career as a filmmaker, actor, and producer, and much much more!
What was it about this true story that resonated with you?
Rudolf is a hero. He was this African man who saw that his people were being oppressed under German colonial rule and he stood up and said “enough is enough”. He fought back against one of the most powerful empires in the world at the time. It’s this incredible story of one man’s bravery and his fight against injustice that I felt needed to be told. As an African man, I don’t often get to see people who look and sound like me represented positively in films. So when I read about King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell and his heroism, I knew this was something people needed to see. I was so inspired by his life and I knew others would be too.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
Well, firstly I want people to see that there is so much more to Africa than the stereotypes we usually see. I show a world that celebrates our kingdoms, our languages and our different cultures. I also want to show that to make a difference it only takes one person - one voice, to stand up against injustice. There’s a lyric that I sing in the closing credits song that goes “One voice can life a nation, inspire a generation”. I hope this film inspires people, especially the youth to use their voices, or their art, to speak up and speak out against injustice.
You started out your career acting, but over the past few years, you’ve transitioned into writing and directing. Did you always want to make that move? What drew you to directing?
I started acting at a very young age. I did my first movie when I was twelve and I remember paying attention to everything the director George Miller was doing. I was fascinated by how a director would work with the cinematographer and actors and crew to bring to life something that was once just words on a page. A few years ago my cousin convinced me to direct a web series she wrote. She knew I always wanted to direct and said: “Now is your chance.” She wouldn’t take no for an answer. I don’t know if I would have worked up the courage to actually direct if she hadn’t forced me (Laughs).
We started creating our own content because we didn’t feel represented on tv or film. And the more I directed, the more I realized it was something I loved to do. I also felt that there were so many stories that needed to be told especially about people of color. But those stories just weren’t being written. So I started writing and directing stories that I felt mattered.
What are some of the things you’ve picked up on set observing other directors that helped you on this film?
One of the things I have learned is not compromising your vision. I remember working on Blood Diamond and the director Ed Zwick knew exactly what he wanted to get out of each take - whether it was the production design, the camera movement or an actor’s performance. There was never an “ok that’s good enough” take. He knew what each actor was capable of and would work with us to make sure we gave our best performance. And only then would we move on to the next scene. To watch him work and see his vision come together was just magic.
What are some of the difficulties you encountered taking on a period piece?
Making a period piece is extremely difficult. Literally everything and I mean everything has to be from that time period. We were making a film that was set in two different countries at the start of World War 1. Some of the set pieces were made from scratch. We had to make sure we had correct military costumes. All the props had to be authentic. I remember laughing to myself when that Game of Thrones Starbucks cup fiasco happened. Because when we were shooting The German King, there were so many times coffee cups had to be removed from the shots before the camera started rolling. We always had to double-check and triple-check that everything that was in the frame was from the time period.
I really love the wardrobe and set design. They’re lavish and intricate and really give the film a nice tactile quality. What was the collaboration process like with your costume and production designers?
It was very much a collaborative process. I hired my production designer Stephonika Kaye very early on. I created a Look-Book which detailed how I wanted the film to look and feel. And she just ran with that vision. She came to me with a ton of ideas. She brought in paintings, sculptures, and ornaments. She built furniture. She did a phenomenal job making everything look authentic. Makenzi Jordan was responsible mainly for the German character's costumes. We talked about Kaiser’s personality and how his military costume would reflect that. Mahriama Suma is an incredible clothing and jewelry designer I’ve known for years. Her African designs are all very regal. Since there are so many African royals in the film I knew she would be the perfect person to have on board as a costume designer.
The film incorporates several different languages. What were some of the challenges there? Did you work with someone to make sure those aspects were on point?
My character Rudolf was fluent in several languages which I don’t speak. I had to work with both German and Douala dialect coaches almost daily, several months prior to filming. They are both beautiful languages but couldn’t be more different so it was definitely challenging switching back and forth at first. Thankfully I had a lot of time to practice. Also, two of our actors speak fluent German - Markus Jorgensen grew up in Austria and Chris Lamm is German, so they worked with the other actors and I while we were on set.
In addition to writing, directing, and acting, you’re also a producer on this film, as well as your previous shorts. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned as a producer? Do you have any producer tips you can share?
Keep your cool (laughs). Be ready for anything and everything. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan on a production. Part of being a producer is problem-solving. You take a deep breath and figure it out.
You’re currently developing The German King into a feature. What are you most excited about expanding on?
There are some World War 1 Battle scenes with African soldiers that are going to be incredible! Really excited to shoot those. We also get to show more of the African Kingdoms. It’s going to be epic.
What do you think? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!