Science fiction and fantasy are often used as mirrors to reflect our own modern societal problems, one of the biggest being the ongoing refugee crisis. Amazon Prime’s Carnival Row explores the theme using fairies and mythical creatures. District 9 was about aliens who’d found themselves stuck on Earth. Now, HBO has debuted Beforeigners, a Norwegian series about folks from the past who’ve been stranded in modern times, and not everybody is happy to see them.
In the first trailer for HBO Europe’s Beforeigners, a six-part series which debuted last year but just started streaming on HBO platforms this week, we find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented situation as time-traveling refugees from three eras—the Stone Age, the Viking era, and the Victorian period—have mysteriously wound up in modern-day Oslo, Norway.
Much like the characters in Carnival Row, the time-displaced newcomers not only find themselves unwelcome in this new land, they’re also being targeted by a vicious killer. It’s up to a Viking warrior-turned-police officer named Alfhildr (Blade Runner 2049’s Krista Kosonen), along with her modern-day partner (Nicolai Cleve Broch), to find out what’s happening and put a stop to it.
In an interview with Variety, co-creator Anne Bjornstad said Beforeigners was created to serve as a metaphor for the refugee crisis and migration issues, citing District 9 as a direct inspiration (a film that’s received its own share of criticism). In order to support the allegory, they had refugee characters speaking in Old Norse as well as other languages, including their own “Stone Age” language and an older form of Norwegian from the 19th century.
“The universe is an allegory of the refugee crisis and migration issues. As a migrant, you have your own language and identity. We felt it was important for the Beforeigners to have their own language,” she said.
When we think of the modern refugee crisis, our minds instantly turn to the situation Donald Trump has instituted at the southern border. But European countries are also culpable. Norway has long been seen as a utopia for equality. However, the rise in far-right violence and Islamophobia have affected the country’s political structure, and it’s impacting immigration. Last year, asylum applications to the country were the lowest in 22 years, mainly because of how the center-right government has restricted its immigration policy.
It’s clear that Norway, along with many other countries around the world, still has a lot to learn about fair treatment of refugees. That said, the choice to keep using the “sci-fi and fantasy scenarios as metaphors for discrimination” trope should be a larger discussion, especially given how often it’s used to justify featuring predominantly white characters.
Beforeigners is currently available on HBO’s streaming platforms, HBO Go and HBO Now.
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