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Actor Malick Bauer Discusses Groundbreaking, Grimme Award-Winning Disney+ Series ‘Sam – A Saxon’

Malick Bauer is seeing his star rise thanks to a knock-out performance in “Sam – A Saxon,” the first German-language original series on Disney+, and he’s using his new-found fame to help broaden diversity on German screens.

“Sam – A Saxon,” the true story of a man who was celebrated as East Germany’s first Black police officer before his life took a fateful turn, won big at this year’s Grimme Awards — the German equivalent to the Peabody. Bauer won the main actor prize, impressing the jury with his portrayal of a character full of contradictions: “Every single facet that Malick Bauer revealed about his character blew the jury away.”

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Also receiving awards were the creators of the miniseries, Tyron Ricketts, Joerg Winger (“Deutschland 83) and Christoph Silber; and directors Soleen Yusef and Sarah Blasskiewitz. Ricketts and Winger also produced the show via their respective labels, Panthertainment and Big Window Productions, part of UFA Fiction.

Speaking to Variety from Lille, France, where he is serving on the International Competition Jury at Series Mania, Bauer discusses Samuel Meffire, the real-life protagonist of the story; the impact the groundbreaking series has had in Germany and abroad; and his collaboration with Winger and Ricketts.

Meffire became a police officer in the East German city of Dresden in 1990, a pivotal moment between the fall of the Berlin Wall and German Reunification, but left the force in 1994, frustrated and disillusioned, and ended up getting involved in organized crime.

For Bauer, meeting Meffire was vital in preparing for the role.

“It became very important to me to delve into his psychology, and he always assisted me in that,” he explains. “He also gave me his book that he was writing parallel to us making the series, his own telling of his family’s story.” While the unfinished book served as a compass, Meffire also kept an open line of communication with Bauer throughout the shoot.

Understanding the complexity of the situation was necessary from the get go, Bauer adds.
“The story of Samuel Meffire starts with the murder of his father based on racist motivations. You have to imagine, to give an example, George Floyd’s angel of a daughter, after what has happened to her father, being patriotic enough to become a servant of the state and offering her service as a policewoman. That is pretty much the life of Samuel. He went into the police force despite what he had experienced and what his family trauma was.”

Despite Meffire’s efforts, the police force remained negligent towards right-wing extremism and he ultimately left the force with his own idea of justice and with a sense that society was on the brink of a civil war, Bauer explains, noting the racist attacks that took place against refugee homes in the early 1990s in the East German towns of Hoyerswerda, Thiendorf and Lichtenhagen.

Meffire “went into extremism himself, became an enemy of the state. But now, thank God, after he was in prison, he was able to rehabilitate himself and he’s back to serving Germany and its society.”

Meffire now works with young people in therapy and does coaching for institutions that work with kids in group homes, Bauer adds.

It was those contradictory qualities that made Meffire such an interesting, nuanced character and the series so atypical, Bauer says.

“Sam – A Saxon” is “the right series for the right time,” he adds.

“I’m someone who’s super privileged to work in the era of DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion. But at times when we do finally create visibility and representation for these minorities, the characters are a bit too heroic, too clean, because they are too safe.

“The great thing about ‘Sam – A Saxon’ is that it is the first German series with a black lead, but it’s also a dynamic character with flaws and redeeming traits. … Sometimes you hate them, sometimes you love them, but it’s not that stereotypical.”

The actor recently embarked on an educational tour of several U.S. universities to discuss the series ahead of its U.S. launch on Hulu. It was a trip that Bauer found inspiring.

“For me as an actor, my north star, my source of inspiration have been people like Denzel Washington. I’ve always had the dream of working internationally. And then to get to screen that show in the U.S. was so interesting because in Germany it’s such a novelty. Sadly, I’m the first Black actor to be able to lead a show of that scale, but in America the consumers were much more open to that idea and also the consciousness of the show’s themes, like identity, the feeling of belonging, resisting and finding one’s space in society.

“These themes were much more graspable for the audiences there. So we had a very different line of questioning, which was super interesting. It was a great experience to see that. What I always wanted to prove with this story, specifically for the German market but also in general, was that good stories are universal. And it was interesting to see the story connect so well, because at times I feared before coming to America that they might have already seen all of these great Black stories.

But still, there’s something special about ‘Sam – A Saxon’ in the sense that when you talk about Black people and police in America right now, of course, it’s mainly about police brutality, right? But to have a Black patriot who offers his life despite the tragedies and problems that his family faced, also from the state, that is something that is so unique about the show, which really made the people connect to it.”

Working with Winger, Ricketts and Silber also proved an enriching experience for Bauer.

“It was a great collaboration because the great thing about Joerg as a writer and as a creator was that he has pretty much no ego, and he was willing to entrust me with that process of creating that role and also to listen at times, even though, of course, he’s already had this great success. And with Tyron, it was the same thing. The good thing was that we were all trying to make the best possible product, because in the end, it was a bit of a trailblazing effort. We needed this to be good so that the next people can then get their opportunities.”

“We always had a mission that was greater than this project by itself. It was always about proving a point and making a case for the decision makers and production houses to be more brave in their decision making and finally bringing our great German society to this group.”

He adds: “My generation is blessed to work. … The generations prior, they didn’t get these opportunities at all. So now I have to carry the baton a bit, or my generation in general has to carry that baton and work for more normalcy, more equality when it comes to storytelling.”

Bauer is continuing his collaboration with Winger, with whom he is “conjuring up some things,” and he’s eager to co-create or co-produce material in order to get the right roles.

“I’m lucky enough to have met great people who are willing to join me on that.”

Bauer also stars in the ZDF ensemble series “Wir,” about the lives of a group of 30-something friends, the fourth season of which bowed in September, and he has continued his work in theater, appearing regularly on stage in Berlin and recently in Hamburg.

Now attending Series Mania as a jury member, along “with super accomplished people like Zal Batmanglij, Charlotte Brändström, Bérénice Bejo and Sofiane Zermani,” Bauer says it’s not just what he’s seeing on the screen, but also the people behind the productions and at the festival itself that give him hope.

“If I look at our jury, you have so many great voices there that look like the societies of today. And I see the same thing with the selection of the shows. It is not forced, unnecessary diversity; it is organic. And the characters that I see, they are flawed. So I feel we are now entering the next step of innovation or normalcy, of human beings having human experiences. I love seeing that. And yeah, therefore I’m very hopeful.”

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