Nordic Exposures

Scandinavian Identities in Classical Hollywood Cinema

Arne Lunde

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: Scandinavian Studies; Film and Media Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 224 pp., 41 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: New Directions in Scandinavian Studies
  • Contents

Nordic Exposures explores how Scandinavian whiteness and ethnicity functioned in classical Hollywood cinema between and during the two world wars. Scandinavian identities could seem mutable and constructed at moments, while at other times they were deployed as representatives of an essential, biological, and natural category. As Northern European Protestants, Scandinavian immigrants and emigres assimilated into the mainstream rights and benefits of white American identity with comparatively few barriers or obstacles. Yet Arne Lunde demonstrates that far from simply manifesting a normative unmarked whiteness, Scandinavianness in mass-immigration America and in Hollywood cinema of the twentieth century could be hyperwhite, provisionally off-white, or not even white at all.

Lunde investigates key silent films, such as Technicolor's The Viking (1928), Victor Sjostrom's He Who Gets Slapped (1924), and Mauritz Stiller's Hotel Imperial (1927). The crises of Scandinavian foreign voice and the talkie revolution are explored in Greta Garbo's first sound film, Anna Christie (1930). The author also examines Warner Oland's long career of Asian racial masquerade (most famously as Chinese detective Charlie Chan), as well as Hollywood's and Third Reich Cinema's war over assimilating the Nordic female star in the personae of Garbo, Sonja Henie, Ingrid Bergman, Kristina Soderbaum, and Zarah Leander.
Arne Lunde is assistant professor of Scandinavian studies at UCLA.
1. Racializing Vinland: The Nordic Conquest of Whiteness in Technicolor's "The Viking"
2. Scandinavian/American Whiteface: Ethnic Whiteness and Assimilation in Victor Sjostrom's "He Who Gets Slapped"
3. Hotel Imperial: The Border Crossings of Mauritz Stiller
4. Garbo Talks: Scandinavians, the Talkie Revolution, and the Crisis of Foreign Voice
5. Charlie Chan is Swedish: The Asian Racial Masquerades and Nordic Otherness of Warner Oland
6. Two-Faced Women: Hollywood's and Third Reich Cinema's War for the Nordic Female Star


"Nordic Exposures is a revealing and often amusing examination of racial questions where we least expect them to arise."
-Agust Guomundsson, Scandinavian-Canadian Studies, Vol. 20 (2011)

"This study does more than extend to another group the already voluminous literature condemning Hollywood's treatment of minorities. . . . Lunde concentrates on a more intriguing issue: the way Scandinavian identity conveyed a cluster of concepts about whiteness."