October 16, 2015

Greenland in Borgen

I never imagined the Danish TV show Borgen could have any Native content, but it does. Here's the scoop:

Borgen (TV series)Borgen is a Danish one-hour political drama television series. It tells the story of charismatic politician Birgitte Nyborg who unexpectedly becomes the first female Prime Minister of Denmark. "Borgen" ("the Castle") is the nickname of Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three of Denmark's branches of government: the Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court.The fourth episode involves the former Danish colony of Greenland and its Inuit population. Here's the basic plot:

TV Review: Borgen–“100 Days”Link TV’s Borgen continues with “100 Days.” Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) gets some information from a leak within the military that the U.S. is using Thule Air Base in Greenland as a stop off while transporting illegal detainees. Katrine breaks the story on air. This is terrible timing for Nyborg (Sidse Babett Kundsen), looking for a positive to play up after one hundred days in office. But with characteristic tenacity, she not only visits Greenland, but takes up some of their causes as well.Below: A photo proves the presence of Muslim prisoners.

Native aspects

When the scandal breaks, Nyborg asks Greenland's premier Enok to meet her in Copenhagen:

'Borgen,' Episode 4: '100 Days'

By Maane KhatchatourianBirgitte is stuck when the U.S. refuses to reveal any information about the ordeal and she's forced to meet with the premier of Greenland, Jens Enok, to discuss the matter. But the premier knows what she's going to say before she opens her mouth. Greenland has been given the same song and dance for decades so Jens knows their meeting is nothing more than a futile ritual. He knows that the PM can't apologize because doing so would cause Denmark to lose face. And the PM certainly can't confront the U.S. The three countries are locked in their positions. "Greenland is no match for Denmark, just as Denmark is no match for the U.S.," he says.The young, charismatic Enok seems to be as astute as anybody on the show. When Nyborg takes their meeting seriously, he tells her it's a joke. They might as well drink their tea while they pretend to have a meaningful conservation.

Enok is played by Angunnguaq Larsen. Larsen is an Inuit actor from Greenland, so the casting is appropriate.

Looking for a way to celebrate her first 100 days in office, Nyborg surprises her advisers by suggesting a trip to Greenland:Feeling guilty about the U.S. cover up, Birgitte takes a trip to Greenland to offer them an explanation for her actions. She's greeted by a completely different Jens than the one who visited her a few days ago. "I can put on a happy face when I visit you, but I tell it like it is when you visit me," he says. Never mind the fact that Denmark had an entire town displaced in Greenland in order to build the air force where the CIA detainees landed, but he says their country has also been pushed aside for hundreds of years. He begs Birgitte to allow them to govern themselves at least to a certain extent. "It's hard for us to give you increased self-rule when nepotism, trade blinders, and corruption abound here," she says.As you can see from the last comment, Nyborg loses her cool and blames Greenland's problems on its people. Enok responds that they've been a colony 300 years but have had political power only 20 years. Nyborg and Denmark can't expect miracles.

Below: Enok and Nyborg talk.

Birgitte decides to extend her trip to learn more about the country. She finds out that 20 percent of Greenland's youth commit suicide. Jens says that the nation will soon die out if its people aren't given back their self-respect. On the plane ride back home, Birgitte tells Kasper that she wants to talk to the Americans, no doubt to reprimand them for the detainee ordeal (the U.S. president later cancels his trip to Denmark). When he questions her decision to upset the natural order, she says "You sell our politics. I make them. Get it?" He apparently hasn't learn his lesson, even after being fired. An emotional Birgitte later describes her conflicting opinions of the country to her husband. "It was magnificent. It was depressing. It was ugly. I think it's the most beautiful place I've ever seen, all rolled into one."

Thanks to Birgitte, Greenland is finally given a voice in its security matters and foreign affairs. For the first time in its history, the country leads the negotiations over the expansion of American control of the air force base on its territory. As with much of the series, this story line is based on real world events. In reality, Greenland passed a referendum in 2008 supporting greater autonomy.
All in all, 100 Days is an excellent primer on how to do a Native-themed episode. It gives us a lesson about government-to-government relations between a Western power and its "domestic dependent nation." It suggests how historical trauma is passed down from generation to generation. That's more than you get in most TV shows featuring Natives.

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