Amanda Kernell's powerful feature debut follows a teenage Sámi girl in the 1930s who is forcibly removed from her family and sent to a state boarding school that is intended to raise its Indigenous charges to a level "acceptable" to the rest of Swedish society.
Amanda Kernell's powerful feature debut Sámi Blood explores the Scandinavian variant of a shameful practice employed by self-proclaimed "civilized" (i.e., white) nations around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries: the systematic removal of Indigenous children from their parents, homes, and traditional lifestyles and forced integration into an educational system that taught them that their customs and lifestyles were inferior at best.
Kernell's heroine Elle Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok) is a teenage Sámi girl in the 1930s who is sent to a boarding school that is intended to raise its Indigenous charges to a level "acceptable" to the rest of Swedish society. (These schools even allowed phrenologists, the pseudo-scientists of the day, to study the Sámi children in order to identify which traits distinguished them from "regular" Swedes.)
Curious and excited, Elle Marja at first excels in her new surroundings, mastering the Swedish language and her other lessons while her younger sister, Njenna, struggles. But this very success, coupled with Elle Marja's intense desire to be accepted by her teachers, her internalization of the school's vile lessons about race and class, and her burgeoning sexuality, soon drives a wedge between her and her fellow students, forcing her to take an action she may not have the opportunity to regret.
Sámi Blood has all the anger and indignation one should expect from a drama centred on such appalling events — events that should by now be all too familiar to Canadians, given the belated apology from the Harper government for Canada's residential schools system. But with Kernell's nuanced direction and Sparrok's devastating performance, it's also a brilliant character study, showing how this kind of officially sanctioned abuse insidiously attacks the minds of its victims as well as their bodies. Reminiscent of Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and Alanis Obomsawin's work, Sámi Blood is driven by righteous rage, psychological acuity, and a profound empathy.