Foreign Film in America

Foreign Film in America

Abbie Heller, Co-Editor in Chief

Over the past few months, South Korean drama “Squid Game” on Netflix has flooded every social media platform, the 9 episode series becoming an instant hit. The story follows Gihun, a broke man in need of money to support his mother and daughter while he’s feeling the pressure from his loan sharks. He gets the opportunity to participate in a series of games in which winners take home a giant prize pot, while the losers face the ultimate loss.

The most interesting part? People are watching with subtitles.

Rarely is it that Americans watch foreign films, especially in their original language with subtitles to read at the bottom of the screen. In the 1960s, spaghetti westerns filmed in Italy were dubbed to English because Italian distributors knew that they would not be successful in the American film market otherwise. As for today, the American film industry is already highly competitive and produces multiple feature films each year, with incredible budgets and technology, and when combined with specific consumer tastes that tend to dislike anything that strays from the norm, it barely leaves room for foreign films to be appreciated.

It is especially interesting when you consider that American films are highly rated in other countries. Distributors in Hollywood often rely on international sales, especially in countries such as South Korea or China. Being that the United States has always been referred to as a “melting pot” and prided itself on diversity and the blending of culture, one might think that something such as a language barrier would not be such a deterrent in entertainment and media.

But with the recent breakthrough of “Squid Game” and in 2019, Director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which won a stunning four Academy Awards and was the first non-English film to win Best Picture, it might be a signal that this narrative is changing.

Roma, released in 2018, is a Spanish film that performed incredibly well in America, rated with a stunning 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and won two Academy Awards for cinematography and directing. Similarly, the 2017 show “Money Heist” is a highly rated Spanish TV series with a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Both Roma and “Money Heist” were streamed through Netflix in the same manner as “Squid Game.”

Whereas the art of filmmaking used to be a media that could surpass the separating nature of language – taking into account the era of silent films where words were not even used – it is unfortunate to see that language itself has grown to be a limitation.

Next time you’re thinking of watching a foreign film, consider this word of advice from director Bong Joon-Ho: “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”