What would happen if you made a film about a key figure in Finnish history and cast Kenyan actors?

UPDATED: ‘The Marshal of Finland’, a new film about that country’s first post-World War II president and national icon (and controversial war figure), Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, has left Finns divided. At the heart of the “debate” is the fact that the  film was shot in Kenya, with an entirely Kenyan cast playing the Finnish roles. ‘The Marshal of Finland’ is described as “combining traditions of African storytelling and biographical elements of Mannerheim.” The characters speak Swahili and some brief English. Most of the production crew were Kenyan (the director is a Kenyan, Gilbert Lukalia). Much of the negative reaction to the film, disguised as questions about costs to the tax payer, really revolved around black actors playing Mannerheim and his wife and mistress.

Finnish nationalists also felt insulted that a national hero was played by non-Finns. Finnish media made much of the fact that “a dark-skinned actor” played Mannerheim. (The lead actor, btw, goes by Telley Savalas Oteinno). The Finnish producer has received threats.

Here’s the trailer:

The production was a collaboration between the Finnish public broadcaster YLE who forked out the money for it, a Kenyan production team (including actors, director and writers) who largely created the film, and an Estonian production company which has been in charge of the intercontinental link up.

The film was aired on Finnish TV last month.

The whole media circus that  followed in Finland — mainly directed by tabloids newspapers — has created this unquestioned and inaccurate image of a nation feeling insulted, all based on anecdotal evidence, i.e. online comments in story threads. Examples: “How can we waste money on such?!”, “Our license fees go to some foreigners,” the comments read.

The film is still available online, so you can watch and judge it for yourself — if you’re fluent in Finnish (for the subtitles) or Swahili.


Further Reading

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Breaking with its habit of tolerating military coups, more recently the African Union has made it a policy to challenge unconstitutional transitions of power. Why not in Zimbabwe?