Cultural Hegemony in “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”

A response paper for Introduction to Cinema at Rhodes College

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul addresses the social injustices that spring from a dominant cultural hegemony’s ideals. The German film calls attention to the imbalanced supremacy ideologies that Germany still held firm 30 years after the end of World War II. Although tweaked slightly from Nazi Germany’s beliefs, the hegemony, or “the process by which a social system wins the voluntary consent of its members to accept their place within a hierarchical structure,” displayed in the film is still one of Germany superiority (Nichols 295). The two central characters of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul Emmi and Ali face and respond to the social injustices in surprisingly different ways.

From the beginning of Ali’s character development, the audience gets the sense that he is not upset by the prejudices against him. He becomes part of the cultural hegemony because he accepts his place in society’s structure and does not try to protest or fight for an equal chance. Emmi on the other hand, is more politically charged and ready to push back against society for the injustices being imposed on her new husband. Their two views on the world are manifested in two scenes in particular. The first being when Ali is denied service at the grocery store and Emmi goes to yell at the grocer on Ali’s behalf, and the second is when Emmi breaks down in the park about the pressure she feels from society while Ali seems unfazed by it.

Emmi’s opinions and reaction to the cultural hegemony of 1970s Germany is interesting though, because her actions begin to lean towards those who support — consciously or not — the marginalization of immigrants. For a brief period of time within the film, she falls under the dominant ideology. This is evident when she treats Ali as an object by volunteering him to help move her neighbor’s furniture, and when she excludes Yolanda from lunch at work. It is only when Ali cheats on her that she realizes she has become a victim of society, is doing the same things that were done to her, and apologizes to Ali.

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