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Europe/Norway01.htm

                   Complete Survey:  Race Relations 2011

 

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  Web Editor:
  Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law
The University of Dayton
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Can you believe that white people are currently (Sept 2002) shooting a movie in Norway called "Burnt Negro"? And, casting a Black boy as the main character, it is supposed to be a comedy!? This is an urgent call for support and solidarity. Young Afrikan women and men in Norway need you to do something about this. On first glance, you might not see this as a very serious case, but, please, read on, as the issue is intricate and needs your full attention for appropriate action.

Bacground: Afrikan Youth In Norway (AYIN)

Afrikan Youth In Norway (AYIN) is a youth NGO in Norway, working with teenagers of Afrikan Descent since 1995. The NGO is a strong and vital force in the fight for justice, self empowerment and education and has helped to elevate the fight against racism, discrimination, ignorance and mental slavery. Contrary to popular belief, racial discrimination continues to obstruct the lives of Afrikans living in Norway, young Afrikans in particular. AYIN has worked tirelessly to make sure young people of Afrikan heritage know their history, develop themselves, and get involved in positive action for change rather than to be sucked into the apathy and mindlessness swallowing so many of your youth. At any given time AYIN has a membership of 150 youth and a network of several hundred affiliates and supporters, both in Norway and internationally. The work is coordinated by a team of young, highly skilled – and devoted - youth workers. To get more information about the organization and its’ projects, go to www.afrikanyouth.org

One of the issues AYIN has been involved in is to launch a critical debate on derogative terms in the Norwegian language used to identify Afrikan peoples; "Negro", "Mulatto", Half-Caste", "Darkie", "Non-White" etc. In 1997 youth members in AYIN produced an information brochure on racism in language and toured up and down the country to explain the appropriate use of terms. Before AYIN’s interventions and campaigns it was quite normal to see some of these words being used in media, in school text books, by authorities, in children’s songs etc. The offense taken by young Afrikans to being called "Negro" has probably sparked the greatest controversy. Media and certain ‘authorities’ on language have constantly labeled the youth ‘sensitive’, ‘ignorant of Norwegian language’ and ‘making a big issue out of nothing’. However, it should also be noted that a tremendous amount of teachers, newspapers, media workers and authorities have taken AYIN’s information seriously and stopped using the word, and now take lead in advocating against the use of it.

(I take it there is no need to explain why "Negro" is seen as derogatory, offensive, racist and unworthy as a term, but, in any case – "negro" means ‘slave’/subhuman etc – which is clearly understood by Norwegians, since they for instance say "I don’t want to do negro work", meaning "I don’t want to do slave work". You will find more information about this on the AYIN webpage – under "Darkie").

The latest blow to this debate is a recent film project which is currently being carried out, called "Burnt Negro". The project has received more than 8 million Norwegian kroner (USD 800,000 or GBP700,000 or 1,1 million Euro) from the state to carry out the project (which is quite a lot of money in a small country like Norway, which only produces a few movies every year).

The project has a website: http://www.sviddneger.no – which, unfortunately, is only in Norwegian. For the sake of information, this is a direct translation of what the web site explains about the movie’s story line:

"BURNT NEGRO – A BLACK COASTAL COMEDY

Anna lives with her father in a remote area of Northern Norway. Karl has previously killed his former wife, and also thrown her new-born Negro-baby in the sea, agitated that she had obviously cheated on him. Now her ghost is visiting him and he develops a serious drinking problem. Anna wants a man, but there are not many to chose from out there by the open sea – at least until she discovers another small family on the other side of the mountain; an alcoholic widow – same age as Karl, her son, Peder, and her black adopted son, Kjell, who once upon a time came floating down the river on a board"

From TV previews and as explained over the phone (see below), the project explains the story line further like this; "It is a movie about identity. Kjell is a negro, but he doesn’t know it. He asks people around him what he actually is, and they tell him that he is a "fjellsame" (belonging to the Saami people – the indigenous people of Scandinavia). So he tries to pick up the "fjellsame" culture. Only until he discovers that he isn’t a "fjellsame", but a negro. And then he becomes cool and funky…" (based on statements made by producer and actors).

The web site gives the impression that this movie is going to be ‘hype of the year’, featuring a manifesto where all those involved in the making of the movie have to subscribe to certain "rules" (obviously seen to be a morbid form of humour, everyone involved are asked to agree that sex scenes in the movie must be real, if animals are killed it must be real, before the movie everyone should abstain from sex etc etc). There is also a news update, where one of the paragraphs read:

"There is still a possibility to have your face featured in this movie (as long as you are a young male negro or have Asian features, regardless of age and gender). We are going to put together a military troop consisting of negroes only… and a group of Japanese tourists… If interested, contact Gudmund on 91564213"

 

Mr. Erling Falck is responsible for the movie project. The shooting of the movie started 1st of August under his direction. On the 5th of August, two of AYIN’s phoned Erling Falck to ask him why they had chosen such an offensive title for the project. Here are some selected quotes from the conversation with him (see attachment for a longer excerpt):

(…) it ("negro") reflects the story line of the movie, which is about a negro who gets burnt both in a literal and symbolic sense (…)

(…) … (a" negro" is) one who is dark skinned from Africa (…)

(…) it ("negro") is the most correct (word) to use (…)

(…) …But my problem is….how am I going to describe you then (if I can’t use

"negro")…I have a cousin who is African, but he is totally white – how am I going to describe him? (…)

(…) …I think one is rather sensitive if one has to be so very difficult (to criticize the use of the word "negro") (…)

(About the use of "Negro" in the English language: ) (…) …It is nigger which is unacceptable, but NEGRO is used (…)

(…) …What is important for us is NOT to provoke…that’s important for me. But what is  also important is to make things a little bit extreme because it is an anti-racist movie.

Because we want people to wake up a little and see things with another set of eyes. It is about identity…. it is about making people take this seriously (…) (to take) one’s identity (seriously). And where you come from. And who you are.

But later on:

(…) Well, this is not really about where you come from… (…)

(…) …Well, I am not a linguistic at all. I had this fear that some would react to it, but I think the title is very appropriate, in relation to the story line. In a title we can’t say ‘burnt boy of African origin’ – that’s not possible in a title (…)

(…) what about ‘Jew’ then? What about that term? (…)

(…) …It’s just like with the homosexuals. Previously it was a curse word to say queer

(‘homse’ in Norwegian), but now…(…)

(…) …I understand where you coming from, I understand that there are different views, I’m not totally stupid, but this is also about finding a title that works for the story line (….)

(…) …it is so difficult. I have worked at the University of Bodo (a Northern Norwegian university) and there we had this student from Cameroon and there were so many misunderstanding because people tried to avoid using the word "negro". Once someone said ‘do you mean she who is a negro’, then everyone understood. And I feel that this movie can losen this up a bit…(…)

(…) Based on economical considerations I have a problem with changing the title, I hope you understand that…but, you know, we can…I am definitely interested in having a discussion, and then we can see what happens…we can do some more serious investigations…but it is very difficult to change a title… (…)

Read the excerpts (see attachment) and make up your own mind, and see if you also don’t find it questionable that someone with this level of reasoning and understanding should go ahead unobstructed in his work to make a movie about a lost black boy….

 

Use of the term "negro";

Refusing to understand and/or accept the offense Afrikan people take to the use of it. They have not seen any need to consult with Black people or authoritative people in the Afrikan communities for consultation, although they admit that they knew use of the word had sparked controversy previously.

The reasons stated for using the term "negro";

According to Mr. Falch, they are using the term because they (the production team) don’t see it as offensive  they have checked with one white professor of linguistic, Mr. Finn Erik Vinje, who states that "negro" is appropriate (the Afrikan community is strongly opposed to Mr. Vinje’s views) he (Mr. Falch) can’t see how he can use another term to describe a Black person of Afrikan heritage they (the production team) thinks the title ‘has a ring to it’, and that it is justified, because it relates well to the story line

The imagery and connotations;

The term "burnt negro" gives a violent connotation to how many Afrikan people actually have been hanged, massacred and burnt. This is part of Afrikan people’s political history. Using an expression which carries heavily connotations of politics, and still claiming that the movie is a "black comedy" is a mockery of Black people’s experiences. There is no justification for the imagery rising from the title in the movie’s story line.

The story line;

AYIN has chosen NOT to comment on the story line so far. It seems this could lead to a nonsensical debate on what is funny, who defines humor etc. However, it must be said; Who really needs this movie? This is questionable based on the following:

This will be the first time an Afrikan person is cast as the main character in a long play movie in Norway. Why have they chosen a story line that is not even remotely related to Afrikan people’s experience in Norway? Do we need another character portrayed as funny (to white people) and confused, as an object for (white people’s) laughter?

What is the rationale behind featuring a Black boy who "comes from nowhere" (apparently his father threw him into the sea, when he understands that his wife must have been unfaithful – seems to mean that his wife had a child with a black man. Where did he come from?)

What is truly funny about a Black boy searching for his roots, convinced that he is of Saami origin? (The Saami people themselves are constantly being used as objects of ridicule in Norwegian popular culture.)

Norway spending money on stereotypes;

"Burnt negro" has received heavy sponsorship from the Norwegian state’s film and culture funds. Clearly, it is seen as an important film. For who? And for what purpose? Who enjoys watching a confused "negro"? Not Black people. And what message is being sent out to both white and Black audiences? Is this what it takes to bring a Black face to the cinema? It is clear that Norway sees it as, not only funny, but important that Black people are portrayed with disrespect. Norway has decided to spend their money, supporting a tradition of making a mockery out of Black people – purely for the entertainment of white people. Money talks. This is a serious message!

What you can do?

AYIN has written letters and talked to the responsible person on the phone. That resulted in a small notice in one of the national tabloid newspapers (Verdens Gang) which somehow stated that some ‘sensitive Afrikans have misunderstood the title and react out of affect’. Norway doesn’t care that much about the opinion of its’ Black population. What it does care about is how it is portrayed in the international arena. After reading the above, if you would like to voice your opinion, please do so, in the format most appropriate to you. Norway is a small country. Remember, many of you never even knew that there are Black people living there (yet there is 30.000 strong community)! So your support will mean a lot. Make sure you state your name, which country you are in and whether you are speaking on behalf of an organization, a company, an NGO, a community etc. It is important that your view is not only seen as an individual opinion.

You can:

Send an e-mail to: Production Manager, Erling Falch; erling@falch.as

Send SMS to: Production Manager, Erling Falch + 47 90 78 68 57

Send a letter to: Production Manager, Erling Falch, Filmfalken AS, Galleaasen, Onoy, 8766 Luroy, Norway or fax it to: Fax: +47 90 41 74 07

Make a phone call to: Production Manager, Erling Falch + 47 90 78 68 57

If you are in media; Make sure your paper, radio etc. makes a story on this

If you are in the arts; Bring this to the attention of international networks

If you are in the corporate world; Find out about affiliates your company might have in Norway and bring to their attention that you expect them to do something about this

If you are in politics; use international channels to criticize Norway and the movie

Be creative; You might come up with a good idea on how to sting where it hurts!

If you send e-mail, do not send too long letters, as Mr Falch reads his e-mails by WAP (using mobile phone). You might want to send longer letters as attachements. See suggestion below for text that you can send to Erling Falch and his company, Filmfalken AS.

Important 1: Please, if you send e-mail, send a copy to Afrikan Youth In Norway (AYIN); info@afrikanyouth.org Please, if you send your support in any other form, send an e-mail to AYIN so that they know what is happening!

Important 2: Please, for this to make an impact, it is important that you send a copy of your protest to the following ministers in the Norwegian government:

- Prime Minister, Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik, E-mail: postmottak@smk.dep.no

 
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Racism and GeoPolitical Regions


Thanks to Derrick Bell and his pioneer work: 
Race, Racism and American Law
(1993).