Swedish TV hit 'Midnight Sun' shines light on Sami people

Stockholm (AFP) –


"Midnight Sun", Sweden's new blockbuster crime series, has drawn praise for its bloody tale of Arctic Circle murder but also concern over the portrayal of the indigenous Sami people who are its stars.

The first season, which wrapped up earlier this month, follows a duo of French and Swedish police officers investigating the killing of a Frenchman in Kiruna, a Lapland outpost whose tundra landscape is dominated by a massive iron mine.

The Sami have lived for millenia in those frozen lands, arriving in waves of settlers from Asia with herds of reindeer that have remained their livelihood generations hence.

The tensions with the Scandinavians who arrived much later and went on to dominate them is the constant backdrop to "Midnight Sun's" dark police tale.

The tensions persist today because northern Sweden is experiencing an economic boom due to mineral mining, wind farms and extensive logging, which are encroaching more and more upon reindeer grazing grounds.

"There is significant discrimination against the Sami, and things are getting worse because of the pressure put on the (northern) territories by mining and other industries," said Olivier Truc, author of the bestselling Arctic thriller "Forty Days Without Shadow".

For the Sami, then, seeing their portrayal on Sweden's small screen is both a source of pride and concern, with their little-known indigenous culture writ large -- and not always accurately.

"The expectations were immense, and overall, they were disappointed," said Lars-Ola Marakatt, a radio journalist for a Sami language station who polled other Sami viewers.

- 'Brutal and quiet' -

Some of those interviewed bashed "Midnattssol", as it is known in Swedish, for failing to reproduce the northern Swedish accent, misrepresenting the nature of local disputes and drawing a broad and blunt portrait of the Sami spirit and traditions.

Peter Paajarvi, a 49-year-old high school teacher in Kiruna, objected to seeing northern Swedes described as "brutal and quiet".

"It looks like they wanted to create a stereotype," he told AFP.

Marakatt said the show's well-intentioned screenwriters "have done too much in terms of pedagogy and explanations" -- perhaps as a nod to the foreign audience of "Midnight Sun".

The series is a coproduction of Sweden's public broadcaster SVT and France's Canal Plus, and airing in both countries, while broadcast rights have been sold for several other countries.

But many Sami also take pride in coming in from the cold in Swedish popular culture.

"There is a real pride in the Sami who for the first time find themselves at the centre of a super-production," said Marakatt.

And for reindeer herder Margret Fjellstrom, critics should recall a key fact: "It's fiction".

"They deliver a clear message that Sapmi (Lapland in the Sami language) has been exploited for hundreds of years while it really belongs to the Sami," she said.

Fjellstrom dismissed worries the Sami would be typecast as vengeful bloodletters -- a concern of some in the north, "no doubt, because of everything we have suffered".

- Real-world authenticity -

The producers of the series, Stefan Baron and Patrick Nebout, say they strive for accuracy but defend it as art.

Show writers Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein are also the creators of another hit TV series, "The Bridge" ("Bron" in Swedish).

"It's the eternal debate about art. At the fore this is entertainment," Nebout told AFP.

"The criticism has mainly come from the non-Samis," said Baron.

Maxida Marak, a Sami singer and activist with a starring role, is grateful for "Midnight Sun" for having given the Sami people a real-world authenticity and shedding their folklore aura.

"Midnight Sun" is "first and foremost a police series. It's not a story about Sapmi, nor a documentary," she told the Swedish daily newspaper ETC.

The fate of the Sami and their fictional police tale is not yet written, say "Midnight's" producers, keeping quiet for now on whether there will be a Season Two.