The Sámi, or Lapp, people of northern Scandinavia have long been subjected to discrimination in Sweden, Norway and Finland. In Sami Blood we see the story of one 14 year old girl, Elle-Marya (Lene Cecilia Sparrok), whose South Sámi family herd reindeer in rural Sweden.
Book ended by Elle-Marya as an elderly woman (Maj-Doris Rimpi), as she revisits the Sámi home of her childhood for her sister’s funeral, the majority of the film is a flashback to a few pivotal teenage years in the 1930s.
Elle-Marya and her sister Njenna (Mia Erika Sparrok) trek from their family’s transient home to a Sámi boarding school, their only option for education. It becomes apparent that the small school serves to segregate the children as much as educate them and their prospects of a future outside of a traditional one is limited. Dressed in their traditional clothes, they stand out against the tall blonde Swedes and are regularly harassed and humiliated.
The children accept it, the adults responsible for their well-being advocate for it, but Elle-Marya wants more. The discrimination is shocking and an all-too-familiar story for indigenous people in colonised countries. Australian Aboriginal people faced the same treatment with scientific arguments for their racial inferiority. The dehumanising of any people opens the door to the evils of racist violence, slavery and cultural destruction.
Director Amanda Kernell is South Sámi and this is the first feature film made in that language. There are only around 500 speakers of the language left; the effects of the indigenous languages being banned in the Sámi schools of the past. You can read an interesting interview with her here.
Kernell was fortunate to find her two South Sámi leads, real-life sisters Lene and Mia. Lene is excellent as the young Elle-Marya. She has a baleful glower that seethes with her unspoken anger and pain. Her lack of words seem just right in a society where no one is prepared to listen.
What is particular tragic about Elle-Marya’s story is the cultural shame she internalises. We see how this has shaped her life and limited her self worth and connection to her family and community. We believe in her resolute strength and see the emptiness of the life she so yearns to access.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.