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Yle's new take on Mannerheim stirs a hornet's nest

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle has unveiled its controversy movie about national hero Marshall C.G.E. Mannerheim, to be released in September. The title role will be played by an African.

Gustaf Mannerheimia esittävä Telley Savalas Otieno hevosen selässä.
Telley Savalas Otieno plays the Marshall of Finland. Image: Yle

The film, Suomen Marsalkka (The Marshall of Finland), was shot in Kenya, with the former president and war hero portrayed by a local actor, Telley Savalas Otieno.  The event and trailer were screened on Yle Areena on Thursday morning.

The decision to cast a dark-skinned actor as Mannerheim has set off a firestorm of debate in the tabloid press and online, including a series of satirical photo manipulations.

Thursday's release of the film trailer has accelerated debate about the film on social media sites.

The 50-minute movie premieres on September 28 at the Helsinki International Film Festival.

Producers threatened

The tabloid paper Ilta-Sanomat reports that there have been threats of violence against the filmmakers. The project’s producer, Erkko Lyytinen, says that he has been surprised by the hateful reactions.

Mannerheim, who was born in 1867, is credited with winning the Civil War against the pro-Socialist Reds and with preserving Finland’s independence through two later wars with the Soviet Union. He served as Regent of Finland just after independence and as president in the 1940s. He also served as an officer in the Russian Imperial Court, and was known as a spy, adventurer, horseman and hunter.

A few years ago, a similar uproar was stirred by an animated film that suggested Mannerheim was bisexual, with veterans’ groups in particular expressing disgust.

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