Reading While Watching TV? The Stigma of Foreign Films

Reading Watching TV 1A foreign film or television series is an acquired taste.

I recently watched a new television show released on Netflix in early October, and reached a similar verdict when recommending it to my friends.

Met with expressions of disregard, discontentment, and disinterest, I’m left to wonder why subtitles are an inconvenience to most.

The box-office hit Call Me by Your Name, although not a foreign film, gave many people the opportunity to watch a film that does not possess your typical American flare.  Firstly, it is a gay romantic film, and secondly it takes place in northern Italy. 

Call Me by Your Name reminded me of Blue Is the Warmest Colour, which is French.

I watched this film in high school and while it touches on mature themes, I felt that it reflected on teenagers of our time.  The confusion and denial that comes from emerging sexuality realizations is prevalent regardless of culture.

People steer away from foreign cinema mostly because of subtitles.

Subtitles are met with dread and a drawn out “I don’t want to read while watching a movie!” (which, makes me laugh every time my mother says it).  It’s a shame, because foreign films have strong plots and talented actors continuously brushed under the rug in America.

Pamela Diaz, an adjunct professor of world languages and culture, further touches on why Americans are not initially intrigued by foreign films or television.

Diaz said, “I think people steer away from subtitles for the same reason why they steer away from books: lack of engagement; a desire for passive entertainment.”

Vincent Forgione, an adjunct communication professor, thought beyond the tedious task of reading subtitles.

“With regards to the standard Hollywood formula, there is a comfort level to watching those films. That’s why the formulas work. Large audiences will tend to steer away from movies that require some puzzling out of the meaning or messages,” said Forgione.

When viewers don’t feel like reading the subtitles, english dub is usually an alternative.

Loosely defined as replacing the original audio of a show with an English voiceover, English dub is common when watching anime or other foreign entertainment.

Hollywood Christmas 2Alice Simonson, a resource center assistant in the world languages and culture department, offered her opinion on English dubbed television.  “Certainly the visual of the mouth movement is disconcerting, but moreover the cadence and musicality of the language are lost,” stated Simonson.

The English-dub may throw off the director’s intended interpretation as well.  While the reasoning behind it is understandable, it can take away from the actor’s power and performance.

However, it also has the benefit of reaching a wider audience. For example, many people who don’t normally watch foreign television are inclined to try it. 

Gillian Foley, a senior psychology student, describes her experience viewing a foreign television show with English dub.  “I personally liked the dubbing when watching Elite because I felt I could hear the translation, but still connect with the characters. I could focus on body language and facial expressions, rather than reading subtitles,” said Foley.

Foreign films are personally my favorite types of entertainment.  My sister and I enjoy watching them together, and sometimes I am inclined to listen to the soundtrack of a show or film. 

One time, upon watching Elite, a Spanish-European show on Netflix, I was introduced to Danna Paola, who plays Lu in the show.

I would have never known she was a famous singer in Spain if I didn’t delve into her discography.  Although I can’t decipher every word sung, I genuinely enjoy finding new music from different cultures than my own. 

There’s a grand scope of foreign films and shows to recommend!  Depending on genre preference, the recommendations will change, but regardless there is something for everyone. 

Diaz said, “I loved the French film La guerre est déclarée (Declaration of War), a story of how a child’s illness tests the resilience of a young couple (based on the actual life story of the actors and producers).”

Diaz described the film as, “intensely emotional, with highs and lows, and has the unresolved quality that so many French films end with -- like a snippet of life, rather than a whole story in such a way that it stays with you.”

She conlcuded with, “And the music, like the story itself, has a beautifully raw quality to it.”

For TV, I reccomend the show Elite. Released Oct. 5 on Netflix and based in Spain, the show has great execution.

It’s about the stark differences between wealthy and working-class teens in a private high school.  It’s a great introduction to the world of foreign television.

“I definitely like the show Elite and can see that even though America and Spain are very different, the lives and emotions are the same” Foley concluded.

Although the films might be foreign, their messages are universal.