For decades, people have been relying on subtitles to watch films and television that are outside of their native language. What was once considered artistic is now about accessibility and inclusion. Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix all feature access to film and television in an array of languages. Many popular shows such as “Lupin” (France), “The Gift”(Turkey), and “Invisible City”(Brazil) are now being accessed by western viewers at higher rates than ever before on Netflix. It is surprising to note that Netflix hadn’t incorporated foreign language captions until 2014! In 2020, Parasite won Best Picture at the Academy Awards which was a feat that many did not see coming. It shined a light on a whole new world of experiencing life but for those who are in the know, the spotlight has always been there. It is a new way of learning about language, culture, food, and people that inhabit every corner of the world. Subtitles shouldn’t stop you from watching a show or film, in fact, it should be the reason you do!
The Brazilian fantasy crime “Invisible City” premiered on Netflix in early 2020 with a promise of a fantastical world full of age-old myths. Don’t worry if your Portuguese isn’t the best, the subtitles still provide an in-depth look into the magical modern world. The show opens with two men traveling in the dense Brazilian rainforest. The older gentleman tries to shoot a bird for sport and is suddenly stabbed in the back by a creature that looks like it’s on fire. For those familiar with Brazilian folklore, the Curupira is a familiar face, a protector of the rainforest. As someone who grew up with Chupacabra or La Llorona, this sense of believing and mysticism is all too familiar. It was created by Carlos Saldanha, who directed Ice Age and Rio. It follows environmental police detective Eric, who stumbles upon a dead freshwater pink dolphin on Rio De Janeiro beach. That is what this show does best, brings childhood myths like the Saci, a prankster nymph who takes the shape of a one-legged boy with a red cap, or Tapire-iaura who is a shapeshifting warthog spirit guardian, to life in a modern way. Oh, and there is also a Lara, a mermaid-siren-like creature. Cultural exchange can be difficult to communicate, but Saldanha replaces that difficulty with the surrounding city and sprawling community that is full of intrigue and surprise. And as someone who doesn’t speak Portuguese, I still felt the emotional and intense scenes that had characters racing against time to defeat an age-old evil.
In “The Gift” which premiered in late 2019, brought forth a mystical and elaborate world that is known as Turkey. The streets are riddled with culture, art, and life. The viewer is taken on the personal journey of Atiye and Golbekli Tepe. Although in Turkish, and a little bit of French mixed in, I never doubted the gravity of the series message. I went into this with no preconceived notions, I had no idea what it was about besides a painter who has been drawing a mysterious symbol her entire life. Mind you, my travel plans have been canceled indefinitely because you know, the pandemic, but have I traveled! I’ve seen the sunset over Mount Nemrut, the archaic temple that is Golbeki Tepe, Istanbul, and Adiyaman. Although much, if not the entire show uses subtitles, it doesn’t change the feeling or the beauty of what it has to offer. A different language shouldn’t hinder a viewer’s ability to watch and learn about a new world, that is the beauty of what subtitles has to offer. “Lupin” offers a chance at understanding underground french pop culture. It premiered to a spectacular viewership in its first week after dropping on Netflix in January of 2021. We learn of the mastery it takes to be a skilled thief but we also root for his success. Twists and turns are at every corner of this show but it doesn’t cease to amaze the viewer with its storytelling. Even with subtitles, the viewer is able to follow every shock, mystery, and emotional ride with ease because, without those subtitles, no one would know what is happening. And that very reason is why subtitles are a necessary evolution in film and television, especially internationally.
I often wonder why more international shows aren’t discussed as great acts of storytelling or considered for award shows and I think that it all boils down to the use of subtitles. Many people feel that they are reading a show or film rather than watching but script writing is entirely different than subtitles. Since the pandemic has started, my plans to travel, like many others were thwarted by travel bans and the virus. As someone who isn’t well versed in foreign countries, I thought that my ability to learn and see different cities were crushed. WRONG! These international films and shows have offered me a birds-eye view of Brazil, Turkey, and France. Learning about a different culture all while being at home has enabled me to see the beauty of international storytelling. When I needed to take a break from the daily struggles of the pandemic, I would turn my television on and head to Netflix knowing I would be introduced to a whole new world and that’s what most of us need right now.
Brittany Zendejas is a freelance journalist. She is dedicated to telling stories about the Latino community which helped shape her into the writer and person she is today. Brittany is currently pursuing a Masters in Journalism at the University of California in Berkeley.
More of Brittany’s work in Mixed Mag:
COVID-19 Has Proven To Be Deadly, Especially for the Latino Community (Issue 6)