Posted: By Andy Marken 01.10.22
Bilingual – Emilia Jones played Ruby in CODA about the bilingual world of signing and speaking and the challenges of fitting in when so many treat deafness as a handicap.
My wife hates it when we stumble across one of the really old Godzilla movies, complaining that the effects and dubbing are so bad.
Sheessh, that’s what makes them great.
You never realize how far we’ve come with special effects, CGI, and realism until you revisit the past.
We also like to watch the action and actors to see how the action noise and vocal utterances are just a few seconds off (known as lip-flap – when the mouth movement and dubbed voice don’t sync).
Come on … it’s fun to watch.
If you really want to visit the M&E’s past, invest some time in the Library of Congress National Film Registry, your countries’ film preservation location, the Hollywood Museum, or beg a studio boss to let you holiday for a week in their content vault.
You’ll see how far the industry has come.
But we’re just as anxious to see “new” content from producers around the globe.
When we get the chance to watch foreign visual stories, we prefer them to have subtitles rather than being dubbed.
Think it comes from our college days when we’d watch whatever was playing at the funky little art theatre in town.
They showed foreign films as they were captured; and if you wanted to follow the dialogue, you could read the subtitles or simply enjoy the richness of the dialogue and muddle through to catch the gist by reading periodically.
That’s why we were confused about all the subtitles vs. dubbing noise that was raised when Parasite, a Korean-language film, won Best Picture Oscar back in 2019.
Statues Galore - Bong Joon-ho surprised a lot of people (including himself) by collecting so many Oscars for his Korean-language film, Parasite. It also started a fresh wave of discussion of subtitles vs. dubbing.
The story, acting, shooting, and editing were good. What more do you want from a film?
Think only local kids can do good stuff?
There were undercurrents of racism, xenophobia, and classism after Bong Joon-ho gathered up his statuettes but that couldn’t/shouldn’t be because the industry is global.
Great films are great films, no matter who does them.
So maybe the issue really was that it had subtitles rather than being dubbed.
Joon-ho clearly stated which creative approach he thought audiences should experience when he said, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Fortunately, we heard no such noise surrounding last fall’s release of CODA (Children of Deaf Adults). This gentle family drama by Sam Heder was snapped up by Apple for $25 million for Apple TV+.
It’s a corny, effective film about a mostly deaf family (father, mother, son) that earns a living the hard way, fishing regardless of the weather.
It’s also a coming-of-age story about the daughter, Ruby Rossi (played by Emilia Jones). Ruby is the only hearing member of the family, whose first language is ASL (American Sign Language). Dubbing was out of the question.
After all, speaking was her second language.
Sign it Often - Ruby Rossi, played by Emilia Jones, uses ASL to tell her mother “I love you.” You may want to practice it often and improve folks’ day.
The family was so eloquent and clear with their ASL that you really don’t need subtitles or other characters to translate.
While our daughter isn’t completely fluent in ASL, she did help us learn key signs.
Every so often we’ll silently tell each other, “I love you.”
But the film – and others we’ve seen – made us feel a little envious that they were able to “talk” to each other. It made us feel inadequate, deprived– like being in a meeting in another country where you only know the basics of the language and just knowing they’re talking about you.
ASL… it’s on our bucket list.
|Source: Paramount Pictures|
Award Winner – Marlee Matlin earned artistic accolades for her work in Children of a Lesser God 30 years ago, and she was still great in CODA.
It was refreshing to later learn that the mother (Marlee Matlin), father (Troy Kotsur), and brother (Daniel Durant) were actors who just happened to be deaf. Not someone faking it.
Sorta makes you wonder why you don’t see more deaf people included in films, as we see with other disabled and diverse actors.
But we digress because this discussion is about subtitles vs. dubbing, not diversity, which itself should be a natural part of film/show production.
Granted dubbing has improved tremendously since people produced the early Godzilla films, but subtitles are simply more natural. Plus, subtitles have been a part of cinema since the industry’s earliest days.
Setting the Stage – Film pioneer Alice Guy-Blache did a lot of groundbreaking work to establish the film industry we enjoy today.
Alice Guy-Blache, the first female filmmaker, didn’t have the crutch of audio back in the late 1800s and produced more than 1,000 short and long projects that were initially silent and later had subtitles.
Those films are still great to view if you really hunt for them or catch the 2018 documentary, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, narrated by Jodie Foster.
Thanks to her and creatives of both sexes, folks like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Mabel Normand, and countless others perfected their talents and techniques with subtitles added.
Now that a talking/sound video story is the standard, people come down on both sides of the subbing/ dubbing issue, often citing the key issues of intellectualism, accessibility, and ableism.
Folks who are pro-subtitlers take the position that people can follow the action/dialogue and “experience” the actors’ full performance.
Without a doubt, they also help deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers understand the dialogue, even if the film is in their native language.
The nay-subtitlers say it’s difficult to read and follow the action at the same time, causing people to miss the nuances of the film/show.
Folks like to cite the BFI (British Film Institute) study that found, on average, a third of a project’s original dialogue was often discarded during the subtitling process. This can result in a loss of both quality and full meaning.
SSSHHHH – In The Quiet Place, Regan, played by Millicent Simmonds, shows that being deaf can be empowering and not a disability.
Those in favor of dubbing note that it preserves the cinematic experience more completely than subtitles.
When a project is dubbed, a voice actor translates the script in the native language and viewers often lose the nuances, timbre, and inflections of the original actor.
At the same time, we feel – and lots of folks agree – that people would prefer to watch films/shows in their native tongue.
Admit it, when you’re visiting another country for work or pleasure and go to a movie or watch something on TV, a lot of the enjoyment is sucked outta the room when you’re listening to it in Japanese, Thai, Spanish, French, or another language you’re less-than-conversant in.
Of course, friends in Australia, Canada, and England have had the same complaints about video stories built around American English.
We very nicely, say to them … yeah, back at ya!
A major reason viewers prefer dubbing to subtitles is often overlooked.
Both – Not everyone in the world has a broad choice of screens they can use to enjoy their entertainment on which is why dubbing projects is vital in many countries.
Whether our kids are watching a film/show on their iPhone or iPad, reading subtitles isn’t just difficult … it’s impossible.
Or, if they bother to sit with us and watch the film on the big screen, they are also busy with their iPhones texting, reading posts, watching TikToks or something like that, so , keeping up with the subtitles is impossible.
But in many countries around the globe, the smartphone – or if they’re lucky, tablet – isn’t just one of their communications/entertainment screens … it’s their only screen.
By the numbers, Statista reported:
- About 1.75 billion TV households worldwide last year
- 1.28 billion tablet users worldwide this year
- An estimated 3.8 billion smartphone users – 48.20% of global population this year
- As with all the problems of streaming, you can lay the issue of international films being shown at Netflix’s front door.
- The company is focused on signing up – and retaining – subscribers no matter where they live.
|Source - Amazon Studios|
Learning – In Sound of Metal, Ruben, played by Riz Ahmed, must learn to be deaf as the rocker drummer and recovering addict suddenly loses his hearing.
Operating in 190+ countries, Netflix is committed to developing/producing/streaming as much as 40% of their film/show lineup locally.
If a film is a hit in France, Argentina, Dubai, Nigeria, or another country, there’s a very good chance it will click with folks in neighboring countries and perhaps around the globe.
Most of the Netflix projects are subtitled and dubbed in a wide variety of source languages and cultural codes, including native language.
Local, regional, or around the globe, Hastings and Sarandos simply want to attract (and hopefully appeal to) everyone including visual, hearing challenged, dyslectic or people with other disabilities.
It doesn’t much matter which side of the debate you’re on because we’re just glad it is being recognized and discussed so everyone can be “heard.”
This past year + we became accustomed to watching an ASL interpreter explain the pandemic warnings/statistics regularly.
And here in California, where the fire raged everywhere, we’d watch the interpreter explain the fire dangers.
We were honestly entranced—watching not just the individual signs but also the interpreter’s body language, facial expressions, and emphasis.
We recognize that they weren’t really deaf and didn’t understand the “words” but some of the folks we could watch for hours because we were “listening” to their intensity.
Better World – Amazon’s Brendan G. discusses his volunteer work to create a more inclusive world for his deaf family and others in the world.
That’s also why we particularly enjoyed an Amazon commercial -– https://tinyurl.com/5mkrubjb – featuring Brendan G., a senior UX designer, who is part of a group working to create a more inclusive, accessible world.
His work and the increased awareness and inclusion of people with special abilities or disabilities will enhance the M&E industry’s ability to help folks around the globe enjoy more great, diverse movies/shows.
There’s no right or wrong way to experience video content; but as the industry has moved to make racial and sexual diversity an integral part of the projects developed and created, it does enhance awareness, understanding, and acceptance.
Together – The CODA cast and family (l–r) Ruby, her dad, mother, brother – struggle to live in a world where deafness is seldom accepted as “normal” and helpful people try to “fix it.”
Streamers and studios are producing projects around the globe; and regardless of the language, a good story is still a good story.
The M&E industry can’t solve the world’s problems, but it can move the needle with the right films/shows.
We’ve made a lot of creative and technical progress since the early Godzilla movies. Now it’s time to polish and share the stories.