One of the most beloved franchises in Sweden, Pippi, is being upgraded by SVT and audiences all over Scandinavia are outraged.
Created in the early 1940s by world famous author Astrid Lindgren as a comforting tale for her sick daughter, and published for the first time in 1945, Pippi Longstocking is one of the most enduring and popular fictional characters in Swedish culture. A staple for children of all ages in books, movies and on TV, Pippi is a superhero kid who lives by herself in a huge house, has a bag full of gold and does not shy away from adventures. She’s not only strong enough to lift a horse and throw two adult men up on the roof of a house, but also a feminist icon and a symbol of justice.
However, when Swedish Television, who owns the rights to the 1969 TV series Pippi Longstocking (which also was released as a feature film in 1973), this week announced that they would show a new, upgraded version in December this year, not everyone was happy about the changes. Improved sound and remastered images aside, SVT had also decided to remove two pieces from the TV series. In one scene, Pippi refers to her father, the absent Efraim, as “King of Negroes”. In the updated version, “negroes” is cut away. Another short scene is removed completely; Pippi pulls the skin around her eyes to immitate “Chinese eyes”.
These two scenes are, according to SVT, believed to potentially offend viewers and teach young audiences that it is OK to label people as “negroes”. -We realize that the target group is children and we believe that it can hurt or be derogatory for the children that hears this. If [an adult] reads a book to a child it is a different case, because then you can explain. But SVT is trusted by parents and they let children watch by themselves. That’s why we won’t include expressions that could be taken in offense, says Paulette Rosas Hott, in charge of programme sales and licencing for SVT, in a comment to SVT’s website. When asked about wether she thinks it is controversial to alter works from the past, she says: -Since the managers of the Lindgrens rights, Saltkråkan AB, agrees with the changes, I feel [we made the right decision].
However, mass media were fast to report on this “tampering” of a classic, which resulted in public outcry from readers, viewers, fans and commentators. The notion of changing a creative work in order to fit a modern way of thinking about stereotypes and racism was hard to swallow. “The Swedes are going crazy” – “I though racism was the idea that one race was of lesser value than another. And surely nobody suggest that Astrid Lindgren promoted that idea in her books” – “Should we adapt history every time someone doesn’t think it fits?” – “In the name of political correctnes we kill our childhood. Her dad being a king of negroes was never a bad thing, in fact I think it shows that her dad was respected by the tribe and as such a role model for integration” – these are just some of the reactions in social media.
Accusations of overzealous political correctness have dominated the commentary fields, although many also agree that one should not use the word “negro” today, as it has lost its position as a neutral label of African people. In the 1940s and for a few following decades, “negro” was an established and accepted word in Scandinavia with no particular racist implication. During the 80s and 90s, the use of the word was debated and it is now avoided by people who want to make sure they don’t offend people with a black or dark brown complexion.
Pippi, through several books, TV series and movies, is one of the most beloved franchises in Scandinavia, and neither Pippi nor her creator Astrid Lindgren are belived to be racist. However, SVT’s upgrading of the series is not the first time Pippi has been at the center of a debate on racism. In 2011, the German theologian Dr. Eske Wollrad called the Pippi books racist and demanded that parents should skip or explain portions of the books. -It is not that the figure of Pippi Longstocking is racist, but that all three in the trilogy of books have colonial racist stereotypes, Wollrad told The Local. In 2006, Norwegian pubcaster NRK changed “King of Negroes” into “South Seas King” in a radio adapation, with many of the same reactions as above. NRK will also show the updated TV series. -NRK wants to include all children. We appreciate the changes that are being done. We don’t want to offend anyone with any of our shows. Updating and modernizing like this is a good thing, director of programmes Hildri Gulliksen said to VG.
Astrid Lindgren died in 2002, but in 1970 she made these comments to Elisabeth Frankl when interviewed: -Yes, I would have removed a lot of idiotic things. Absolutely for sure is that I would not make Pippi’s daddy a negro king! A white guy who comes to the South Seas and puts on a bamboo dress! But it wasn’t like I was thinking that we were superior to the blacks and that once we arrive in the Pacific we become their kings. Someone thought this was blatant racism. Whatever they say about me personally, if they think I have any racist tendensies, they are wrong. And Pippi didn’t have it either. But the times have changed and today I would not have made him a King of Negroes. He would probably be a sea captain or a pirate.
The upgraded version of Pippi Longstocking will be shown on Swedish Television in December, and also released on DVD.