Prize-winning Danish film confronts country’s colonial past

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Prize-winning Danish film confronts country’s colonial past
'Empire' by the producers Pernille Munk Skydsgaard, Nina Leidersdorff and Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen is winner of the 2023 Nordic Council Film Prize. Photo: Fartein Rudjord/

Danish film Empire on Tuesday received the Nordic Council Film Prize at an award ceremony in Oslo.


The film, titled Viften in Danish, depicts a capital from Denmark’s history as a colonial power and slave trading nation in the Danish West Indies – the modern-day US Virgin Islands – in 1848.

It follows two friends who are both Black. While one of the two main characters is free, the other is her slave.

The Nordic Council said it had rewarded the film for its new perspective on racism and power structures, and for its complex and provocative approach.

“It is brave, bold, and ambitious of the filmmakers to pursue this serious and traumatising story in such personal, playful and, at some points, even humoristic and surprisingly beautiful way,” the Council said in a statement.


Empire is a story about a very specific part of Denmark’s past, and it is both deeply relatable to our current dilemmas and to a global audience,” it added, acknowledging that that the film’s snapshot of Denmark’s history “doesn’t look good” for the country.

“With hindsight, the film convincingly interprets the slave rebellion against Danish colonialism, in highly complex ways. Everyone is struggling to find a place within the hierarchy of race and class,” it said.

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Director Frederikke Aspöck, screenwriter Anna Neye, and producers Pernille Munk Skydsgaard, Nina Leidersdorff and Meta Louise Foldager Sørensen were the recipients of the award.

Screenwriter Neye appears in the film as main character Anna.

“The screenwriter Anna Neye, who also plays the leading character, has created a diverse and previously unheard story where all the characters have flaws, and many have inner ethical struggles,” the Council said.

Previous Danish winners of the award include Flee (2021), Queen of Hearts (2019) and The Hunt (2013).


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