This article is available in the December issue of Cinema Scandinavia. In this magazine, we focus on contemporary concepts of ‘identity’ in film, television, and documentary.
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They look at you with suspicion,
because they think you are different,
but when you want to be like them,
they punish you…
Amanda Kernell’s film entitled Sámi Blood entered the film festival circuit with storm at the Venice Film Festival in September 2016, and has been going strong even since. The film not only tells the story of a young Sámi girl from the northern part of Sweden, but also draws attention to the discrimination against the Sámi community that is still an issue in Sweden.
There is hardly a person in the film festival circuit or in the global film industry who has never heard about Sámi director Amanda Kernell’s Sámi Blood. The film that takes us back to the 1930s follows a young Sámi girl named Elle Marja, played by Lene Cecilia Sparrok, who becomes Christina eventually to be a fully accepted member of the Swedish society. She needs to disguise her Sámi identity and reject her family, and the traditions she grew up with – the traditions that should be preserved in order not to let them completely erased from history. Her journey, from the northern part of Sweden to the south, illustrates her strengths as a human being, but also highlights the pressure society puts on her. Could it be considered her metamorphosis as a kind of weakness or as a great survival instinct? Aren’t we all pretending to be someone else from time to time to be more accepted in society? Of course, the most of us don’t grow up with a stigma, and are sent to boarding school and exposed to race biology examinations just because we belong to a particular ethnic group.
Besides showing the different forms of assimilation politics Swedish authorities forced on to the Sámi communities, Sámi Blood is really a coming-of-age story, a search for (new) identity. Elle Marja needs to cut all ties with her family in order to survive and make it in the dominant Swedish culture. This also means that the Swedish authorities have succeeded and implanted the thought of “you need to assimilate and change” well enough. However, one particular scene stands out in this context; it depicts Elle Marja being punished because she stole her Swedish teacher’s clothes and went to the dance organised by Swedes. The question emerges: Did she only get punished because of her act of going to the dance without permission or because she disguised herself as a Swede?
Sámi Blood is about Sweden, but it must be mentioned that the different elements of assimilation politics (such as boarding schools, race biology examinations, etc.) were actually common practices by other governments in other countries with indigenous population. A few elements surely remind us of a certain period of history that probably no one would like to be associated with – although the film sets in the 1930s, so a few years before World War II started. Still, these practices are quite thought-provoking, pinpoints the existence of double standards in our society, and confirms that so much depends on the context. As Sámi singer Sofia Jannok says in the interview for Cinema Scandinavia: Sámi Blood can resonate with audiences all over the world, since despite giving a very Swedish example of oppressing indigenous people, this kind of treatment is not peculiar to this specific Nordic country.
Sámi Blood is an intriguing example of honest and carefully crafted film-making, a truly universal story with a local touch to it. Sámi writer–director Amanda Kernell uses her talent and guides us through an identity crisis that ends with inner peace and arriving home. The beautifully photographed images and the gradually intensifying plot make us forget time, and identify with Elle Marja and Christina, even if we don’t belong to the Sámi community or any other minority groups. Lene Cecilia Sparrok gives a gripping performance, so it’s no surprise she is nominated for the Stockholm Rising Award 2017 handed out at the Stockholm Film Festival.
Featured photo: Sophia Olsson