I decided to ignore anything pertaining to the film ‘Frozen’ a long time ago - the misrepresentation of the Saami in it, or rather the combination of misinformation and problematic myth-making in it did not appeal to me at all, I had already explained why I disapproved of the bastardisation of our traditional clothes at length and with far more pressing issues at hand, such as the revival of my maternal language or the fight against fierce colonialism on our ancestral lands, I neither felt compelled to nor had the time to waste more time on a Disney film which contributes virtually nothing to the cultural wealth and knowledge of my people.
But then someone submitted a post to the blog “Unpopular Opinions” here on Tumblr, and ever since, my inbox has been filled with angry, anonymous messages about how I have no right to be dismissive of the film as this unnamed person presented themselves as Saami and claimed that the film was loved by most Saami, and any critique of it was hurting the Saami.
I heavily disagree, critical discussions about representations are always needed, especially when we’re talking about members of indigenous peoples and other minorities and everything I have said about the film with regards to its false claims to Saami-ness stands, but to perhaps stop my inbox from being filled with more trite from people I don’t know, I’ll spend the rest of this post talking about ‘Frozen’ one single, last time, rather than rolling my eyes at inane messages on a daily basis.
I do not pretend to be speaking for anyone but myself, nor do I hide my identity behind a veil of anonymity. I am for better and worse fairly well-known within my own community, so I’ll say this for the last time, when I state that I find the film problematic because of how it deals with the Saami, I am expressing my own opinions.
I do not speak for the entirety of my people, nor do I actually see a problem with some Saami liking the film or disliking it as I do.
But as for the film.
In short there are three main things that particularly bug me; the first concerns the opening song, the second deals with the way our traditional clothes have been re-imagined by Disney and the last beef I have with Disney has to do with the director’s claim that Kristoff is Saami without showing any non-fictional proof whatsoever of this throughout the entire film.
But let’s start with the opening song, seeing as comments made by the President of the Norwegian Saami Parliament with regards to it has been interpreted as her loving the film.
In her New Year’s Speech, the president stated that ‘
‘the yoik “Eatnamen Vuelie” and Fjellheim’s musical talent is now making a whole world listen - to yoik. We are seeing the same in other cultural expressions: the Saami culture is expanding to ever new audiences’
It may come as a surprise, but I do agree with Aili Keskitalo as far as her statement goes - it is a great thing that we’re seeing our culture gaining new grounds - but only insofar as it’s being read in connection with the following paragraphs of her speech which have conveniently been left out of the quote by the majority of people on Tumblr.
In her speech, Aili Keskitalo goes on to say that “but often we experience that stories about us are being told by others than ourselves”. In other words, while not criticising the film per se, she’s not endorsing it either as some people have been claiming - she’s merely applauding the fact that Saami music is getting world-wide attention, followed by a paragraph where she high-lights the problematic aspects of having outsiders tell our stories without our involvement in them.
Now, ‘Vuelie’, has indeed been written by a South Saami composer, this is something I personally like, especially as I as a yoiker admire Frode Fjellheim’s work as far as the revitalisation of South Saami yoiking goes, but the choir performing it is not Saami, and as such I do not see Vuelie as an inclusion of a Saami voice in the film, but rather as a way to include something which is evocative and exotic, in the same way as the opening song of Pocahontas.
My opinions with regards to Vuelie would have been completely different, had Disney employed e.g. the Saami youth choir Vaajmoe to record the song, but seeing as they chose to employ a non-Saami choir, despite having asked Frode Fjellheim to rewrite his tune Eatnemen Vuelie to better suit the magical atmosphere of the film, my opinions remain unaltered.
Furthermore, in an interview which has been circulated widely on Tumblr in the last couple of weeks the composer Frode Fjellheim clearly states that the tune itself is only inspired by yoiking, calling it ‘en jojke-inspirert ting’, i.e. a tune inspired by yoiking, rather than being an actual yoik per se. This is hardly surprising, as the tune was originally written as a choral piece, but as it is called Vuelie, which is the South Saami word for a yoik, people have automatically coded it as a yoik, despite what Frode is actually calling it.
I maintain that a tokenist use of a cultural practice that was punishable by death until the late 18th century does not in fact count as inclusion, no matter how many times people tell me to be happy about the tune, and as much as I’m indeed happy for Frode to be earning a shit-load of money from his song, I do find the way in which it has been recorded to be deeply problematic nonetheless.
I mean, if they wanted something exotic without employing a Saami choir, they could have just gone full-on with the use of Scandinavian herding calls, which can be heard more or less whenever when some magic shit is going down in the film.
Over to the clothes; I have already explained why and how the clothes have been inspired by our traditional clothes in another post which can be found here, so I won’t spend too much time examining every part of Kristoff’s clothes, but I will mention a couple of things, the first thing being his shoes.
Kristoff is seen wearing a type of reindeer hide boots called goelke-gaamegh, or novhtegh in South Saami, but despite the fact that the shape is authentic, the lack of either shoelaces or woven shoebands and shoelaces mean that they would be highly impractical as snow would get into the shoes as they’re worn without a way to keep them tied closely to the leg.
Sure, shoes and odd clothes are hardly things that warrant any longer discussions, but the way in which all of Kristoff’s clothes seem to be almost Saami and then they’re not, well it really does not sit well with me at all.
I was brought up in an area of Saepmie where donning a gapta (traditional dress) was seen as something bad by the majority, something which warranted fierce discrimination, and to this day there are a gazillion unspoken rules, generational traumas and basic tiny details surrounding the wearing of our traditional dresses that I find it annoying to see the dress being bastardised in the way it’s been by Disney. As much as I don’t think of Kristoff as a Saami, I’d much preferred that they had at least made his clothes authentic, or not bothered with the so-called Saami influence at all.
Because what we now get to deal with are cosplayers who do not understand the deep, cultural codes behind our traditional clothes donning a fake version of our clothes and being applauded for it, while Saami children especially in my part of Saepmie struggle with the very idea of daring to put on a gapta in public because it’ll earn them snide, racists comments from the majority for daring to be publicly Saami.
To mention just one story of what wearing a gapta can result in, here’s one example. Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who uses his gapta regularly, and he told me how he’d worn it at a council meeting a couple of years ago when a right-wing politician had walked up to him, casually telling him that they were discussing plans on putting up new signs in a village close to Liksjoe, only they weren’t sure if the hanged Saami they wanted to put on it should be North or South Saami and seeing as my friend was being Saami in public, maybe he could wage in.
But let’s all cosplay Kristoff, why don’t we.
Finally, I would like to address the extensive myth-making in the film. On one hand Disney has done a great job at creating something fairly vapid, light-hearted and full of singable musical numbers, with an annoying yet somehow endearing talking snowman, but on the other hand they’ve made the Saami seem even more exotic and fairy-tale like by making Kristoff an orphan raised by trolls.
I mean, nice touch on writing ‘trolls’ in runes on the map at the beginning of the film, but the fact that the only supposed Saami in the entire movie is orphaned, thus stripped of a community which is essential to a Saami identity as our indigeneity is primarily communal rather than individual, and then have him being raised by fucking trolls just contributes to the idea that we’re either mythical creatures or not even real in the first place.
But it’s a film aimed at children, the trolls were so cute.
I actually enjoyed the song Let it Go, I liked that Kristoff was asking for consent before kissing Anna, I particularly liked the true-love twist at the end - but felt it would have been much better if the entire romantic subplot between Kristoff and Anna had been scrapped entirely, but there were so many parts of the film that I disliked that I couldn’t fully enjoy it and just sit back and “relax because it’s a children’s movie”.
The misrepresentation and myth-making surrounding Kristoff, i.e. the so-called Saami boy continues throughout the entire film and regardless of how minor it seems, it does feed into an ongoing discourse about us in Saepmie where we’re either seen as exotic or considered to be worth less than dirt depending on where you enter it. The fact that Kristoff is somehow Saami because he has a reindeer is another thing which grinds me the wrong way as this type of misinformation is already running wild over here and has been doing so for decades, i.e. that real Saami have reindeer, and it is making life complicated for actual reindeer and non-reindeer herding Saami alike in Saepmie.
Finally, for a company which claims to have done extensive research on the Saami, they’re clearly not knowing enough about us or even reindeer to know that
- Sven has the antlers of a female reindeer.
- A full-grown man would not be able to ride a reindeer bull. Like ever. The belief that Saami used to ride their reindeer goes all the way back to 1540, when Olaus Magni, who had never actually seen a real-life Saami, claimed that we used reindeer as horses and published this picture in one of his books:
In other words, Disney is contributing to keeping yet another prejudice about my people alive and kicking.
- Reindeer are wild animals, and even vuejeme-råantjoeh, i.e. bulls used to lead a herd of reindeer during reindeer migrations wouldn’t ever behave like a dog.
- Kristoff’s sleigh is distinctly Norwegian, and it’s way too heavy to be pulled by a reindeer.
If Kristoff actually was Saami, his sleigh would probably look a lot more like this, and he’d have been using skis instead of walking.
Is Frozen the worst thing that has ever happened to us as a people? Well no, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t problematic anyway.