Culture Critique: Americans Are Missing Out on Foreign Films for A Shallow Reason

Nairobi, a character from Money Heist, is pictured in a mural in Cologne, Germany showing how far the show has impacted viewers around the world. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia.

When Boon Jong-Ho, the director and co-writer of the hit movie “Parasite,” won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, he said “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

“Parasite,” a South Korean movie, won a total of four Oscars, including a history-making Best Picture victory, the first foreign language film to do so in the history of the awards.

There is not enough recognition for TV shows and movies in the United States that aren’t in English. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s a coincidence, but the number of times I have heard someone decline to watch a movie or TV show simply because they don’t want to “read” it, feels like it has upticked over the last few years.

I do admit that it can be a little overwhelming at times (though, not really) to have to read subtitles while also trying to watch the actors perform. However, with TV and movies it’s all about showing, not telling, unlike a play which, in my opinion, relies on dialogue much more. 

I think people who refuse to watch TV shows and movies in languages other than their mother tongue are really missing out, sometimes even on a global level.

Let’s take the Netflix show “La Casa de Papel,” or “Money Heist” in English. It is a world-wide phenomenon, doing better in foreign countries than its native Spain. 

In a recent article from The Independent, Annabel Nugent reported that “Money Heist” “became Netflix’s most-watched series overall in countries including France and Italy. In 2018, the show’s total streams topped that of ‘Stranger Things’.”

It shouldn’t just be popular series that this applies to, though; there are so many TV shows and movies that are from other non-English speaking countries that Americans are quite frankly just missing out on by not watching. 

For example, Finland’s “Karppi” (or “Deadwind” in English), a dark, slow burn crime drama available on Netflix. Or even shows that are hybrid and have English and other languages like Netflix’s “Unorthodox” which has Yiddish, German and English, and even takes place partially in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and HBO all have “Foreign” or “International” categories for TV shows and movies. And in a pandemic that is halting travel and social interaction worldwide, it seems wrong for those of us who have the privilege of these streaming services to not virtually experience a new culture — or even just a great story — while stuck doing schoolwork or working from home.

In Nugent’s words, “…the language spoken by a show’s characters doesn’t have to be a barrier to anyone’s entry.”

About Emma Ryan 25 Articles
Emma Ryan is a fifth-year double major in Digital Media Production and International Relations, and has a minor in Astronomy. She is interested in writing, politics and science. In addition to being a writer, Emma aspires to work for watchdog groups or international organizations that monitor and combat white supremacy, extremism and terrorism. This is her second semester at The Oracle.