“Greenland is far more than a primitive society”

A recent report commissioned by the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative (MDSC) at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, shows that Hollywood still excludes women, ethnic minorities, LGBT+ and disabled people both in front of and behind the camera. How is all this discerned in the indigenous world of professional acting?

Aannguaq René Jacob Jørgensen Hansen (1992) is an emerging Inuk actor who has just finished playing the leading part in the groundbreaking hybrid documentary, Lykkelænder, by the Danish visual artist and filmmaker, Lasse Lau. In this interview, the multifaceted Greenlander, who’s also a member of the Inuit ‘Community of the People’ political party, talks about his passion for acting, about the high suicide rate amongst Greenlandic youngsters and about his island’s sovereignty.

Aannguaq Hansen: <em>“I truly wish to see many more native actors and actresses getting substantial roles in the internationa
Aannguaq Hansen: “I truly wish to see many more native actors and actresses getting substantial roles in the international movie industry”.

HP: The most recent statistics show that 89.2% of all inhabitants of Greenland were born on the island. How do you personally identify?

“My paternal grandfather is Danish so I can't describe myself as 100% Inuk, though I feel as though I’m 100% Inuk. I wouldn't describe myself as a Danish actor because I was born and raised in Greenland. As such, I’m a 100% self-trained Greenlandic actor and, as most people in my country, I use 3 different languages to express myself: Greenlandic and Danish and English as my second and third languages”.

HP: How would you describe your first main role in Lykkelænder?

“Lykkelænder (Danish for ‘The Happy Native’) is my first professional project and it will be premiered in spring 2018.

It’s a genuine story about Greenlandic people, as the film justifiably shows that Greenland is far more than a primitive society comprised of only people who live in igloos. While the latter is undoubtedly part of our richness, we are a modern nation at the same time.

To be part of the film was a lot of fun, but when it came to the acting part it's wasn't easy, as I had to challenge myself and push all necessary limits. In some scenes, I had to blend into the crowds of native Greenlanders in their traditional hunting gear. Many of them never got to know that I was acting as most of the movie cameras were concealed. At given times, some of these islanders were just staring at me – they must have often asked themselves what on earth I was doing. Furthermore, regardless of being the main character, I didn’t have lines so I had to give everything in terms of body gestures and facial expressions. All in all, a very rewarding acting experience in which I also got to travel for free (laughing out loud)”.

HP: The role played by the Greenlandic actor, Orto Ignatiussen, in the Hollywood blockbuster Gravity, has prompted some scholars to criticise the low percentage of indigenous characters in movies. As a Greenlandic actor, what has been your experiences regarding this matter?

“First of all, I think we, Greenlandic people, have to be proud of Orto Ignatiussen because he's done a remarkable job. Nevertheless, I would have liked to actually see his scenes and not only hear his voice – I wish they hadn’t deleted his scenes. While I myself have not had such experiences, I truly wish to see many more native actors and actresses getting substantial roles in the international movie industry. There is so much talent in Greenland and amongst other native communities. We, the native people, have to stand up and be counted and believe that we have what it takes. We have to show the world that we are part of it – I believe that’s the way to demonstrate to the planet that we exist”.

The Greenlandic actor, Orto Ignatiussen, landed an off-camera role in the Academy Award winning British-American film <em>Gra
The Greenlandic actor, Orto Ignatiussen, landed an off-camera role in the Academy Award winning British-American film Gravity.

HP: Experts ascribe the high suicide rate amongst teenagers and young adults in Greenland to many factors, but at the same time admit that they simply don’t know the true reason. As a Greenlandic youngster, what is your personal opinion on this?

“It is true indeed that a considerable number of Greenlanders turn to suicide. This is sad and at the same time problematic because we are not a big society or cultural group in first place. In my opinion, the problem lies in the tension field between reality and taboo. Most Greenlandic people don't talk about their problems or feelings. For example, if someone has been sexually harassed or if you’re facing troubles in your love life or within your family, it’s hard to bring this up. Generally speaking, talking about troubles or feelings is sort of a taboo subject in Greenland – this is something we have to work on”.

HP: As a member of your island’s democratic socialist party which aims to make Greenland an independent state, what is your greatest wish for your island?

“Prior to independence, we, Greenlanders, firstly have to find ourselves. Throughout the years we've lost a lot of our culture. If we find ourselves again, we can reach independence. After all, without culture, there is no democracy”.

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