Oscar winners come and go. Some become permanent pop culture icons while others fall out of favor with viewers. This year’s winner, “Parasite,” has done both for the cinephile and the average moviegoer. Despite its success, many Americans are still reluctant to see it because of one reason: subtitles.
The United States has had a troubled past with diversity in film. In recent years, foreign films have started to break through their own categories and take the place of their English-language counterparts. What seems to be hindering them in the eyes of most Americans is not their quality, but their use of subtitles.
The use of subtitles is not a new concept, or at least it shouldn’t be to Americans. After all, the silent film is what initiated our national love for movies. These films featured actors and actresses who would imitate their actions and then have a screen with text following the shot either explaining what they were doing or show their dialogue.
As sound and speech were introduced to movies in the late 1920s, subtitles slowly faded from our movie making. In this disappearance arose the taboo around them, especially in foreign films. Foreign filmmakers did not stop making movies; Americans stopped watching them.
So much can be explored and appreciated if more people allowed subtitled movies and television into their viewership. Some of my favorite Netflix originals are in other languages. Not only do I not see them as an issue, but I see them as an opportunity to experience another culture in the way it was intended. English voice-overs can often times change the original translation as well as change the words entirely to make the lip dub fit better.
We seem to pick and choose as a nation when we want subtitles and when we don’t. When “Game of Thrones” first aired in 2011 there were no complaints of having to read subtitles for the made-up language of Dothraki. In fact, thousands of fans petitioned for an opportunity to learn the language.
There also isn’t much help from President Donald Trump in trying to erase the stigma on subtitles either. In a recent press conference, he trashed the idea of a foreign film winning best picture and wished for more films like “Gone With the Wind” to win again. This is effectively a step in the wrong direction for subtitles.
It is unfortunate that many Americans still feel like subtitles are too bothersome for their entertainment pleasure. However, there is hope for moviegoers with films like “Roma,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Parasite,” making names for themselves in American cinema. They are films that surpass their title of being foreign just by their sheer beauty and poignancy.
Getting past subtitles is something that doesn’t require much thought. Our brains can process as many as 500 words per minute so two lines at the bottom of the frame is definitely manageable, as long as we allow their stigma to be lifted.