The Korean film “Parasite” has recently taken home many awards including the Oscar for Best Picture. Most notably, director Bong Joon-ho spotlighted the fact that most Americans frequently ignore foreign films in his acceptance speech for Best Foreign Film.
“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Joon-ho said.
Unsurprisingly, Joon-ho’s message made an immediate impact on audiences, causing people to reflect on Americans’ tendencies to dismiss things that are presumed as “different.” Many of us feel uncomfortable when we are exposed to a foreign language that we don’t understand.
The tendency to avoid films in foreign languages closes many Americans off to other experiences and cultures purely due to discomfort. If we are more willing to step out of our comfort zones, we can realize that foreign movies offer just as much value and entertainment as American movies.
“Once you break through the foreign barrier with movies, you become exposed to an entirely new and great selection of films, which can be achieved just by having a little bit of an open mind,” junior Megan Durr, who speaks both English and Thai, said.
“Roma,” a Spanish film featured on Netflix that focused on a Mexican family, was a big success when it first came out in 2018. This was one of the rare moments in which Americans overlooked the language barrier and watched the film anyway. Over 3 million people watched the film in just January and February of last year, according to the Nielsen ratings.
In addition, the Indian film “Period. End of Sentence,” winner of Best Short Subject Documentary at the 2019 Academy Awards, similarly saw large numbers of households watching the Netflix documentary. Even with subtitles, these films demonstrate that foreign movies can emotionally impact and entertain English speaking audiences all the same.
However, movie theaters do not often show foreign films. Nor are they frequently advertised to American audiences. However, if there were demand, theaters would have to step up.
We have no excuse to not enjoy films where our understanding of the language is limited. The 2018 film “A Quiet Place” received praise from critics and was well received by audiences, even though the film had almost no dialogue. If we are willing to watch a movie with almost no talking, there’s no reason why we should be so hesitant to see a film in a language other than English when there are subtitles available.
Ironically, many American films are well received in countries in which English is not the primary language. It is hypocritical that we expect other countries to conform to our language, but are inflexible when it comes to watching a film in another language.
When it comes down to it, the true importance of movies is not what language they are in or which country they are from. Movies are a way to bring people together, open up our eyes to new perspectives, and allow us to experience life through the eyes of another person we may not think we have much in common with.
“I think we use only just one language, the cinema,” Joon-ho said.