Mama to madre? ‘Roma’ sub­ti­tles in Spain anger di­rec­tor

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY ALEX MAR­SHALL

If you com­plain to Net­flix, the stream­ing giant lis­tens. At least it does if you’re Al­fonso Cuaron, Golden Globe-win­ning di­rec­tor of “Roma.”

In the film, set in Mex­ico City in the 1970s, the ac­tors speak Mex­i­can Span­ish and the indige­nous Mix­tec lan­guage. For that Span­ish, Net­flix added sub­ti­tles in Castil­ian, Spain’s main di­alect, for the re­lease in that coun­try. On Wednes­day, Net­flix re­moved those Castil­ian sub­ti­tles af­ter Cuaron told El Pais, a Span­ish news­pa­per, that they were “parochial, ig­no­rant and of­fen­sive to Spaniards them­selves.”

Even com­monly un­der­stood words like “mama,” for mother, had been trans­lated (in that case to “madre”) as were the words for “get an­gry” and “you.”

“Gan­sito,” the name of a Mex­i­can choco­late snack, was per­haps more ac­ci­den­tally changed to “gan­chi­tos,” a cheese puff.

“Some­thing I en­joy most is the color and tex­ture of ac­cents,” Cuaron told El Pais. “It’s as if Almod­ovar needs to be sub­ti­tled,” he added, re­fer­ring to ac­claimed Span­ish film­maker Pe­dro Almod­ovar.

Cuaron would not com­ment for this ar­ti­cle, but Bebe Lerner, his rep­re­sen­ta­tive, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view that Cuaron told Net­flix to change the sub­ti­tles as soon as he learned of them af­ter an event in New York on Tues­day night.

The only form of sub­ti­tles now avail­able for the Span­ish di­a­logue in Spain are closed cap­tions — the form that ben­e­fits those who are hard of hear­ing or deaf. These fea­ture the Mex­i­can-Span­ish di­a­logue in its orig­i­nal form. (Those closed cap­tions have been avail­able since the film was re­leased there).

Net­flix would not an­swer ques­tions about its use of Castil­ian for “Roma” or other films and TV shows it buys from Latin Amer­ica.

The prob­lem was first spot­ted in De­cem­ber by Jordi Soler, a Mex­i­can au­thor who lives in Barcelona. He tweeted that the sub­ti­tles were “pa­ter­nal­is­tic, of­fen­sive and deeply provin­cial” af­ter see­ing a sub­ti­tled “Roma” in a Barcelona cin­ema.

There were two prob­lems with the sub­ti­tles, he said. The first was the as­sump­tion Span­ish peo­ple could not un­der­stand sim­ple words in a dif­fer­ent di­alect.

“It’s like if you have an Amer­i­can film show­ing in the U.K. and the char­ac­ter says he’s go­ing to the wash­room, but the sub­ti­tles say he’s go­ing to the loo,” Soler said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “It’s ridicu­lous. They’re treat­ing the peo­ple of Spain like they’re id­iots.”

But he said the big­ger prob­lem was that the sub­ti­tles played into the his­tory of Span­ish colo­nial­ism.

“In Latin Amer­ica we have an ex­treme sen­si­tiv­ity with ev­ery­thing Spain does,” Soler said, “and in Spain they treat Latin Amer­i­can peo­ple like they’re still a colony.” Net­flix’s choice to change Mex­i­can words felt just like that, he added.

Sim­i­lar prob­lems oc­curred decades ago, Soler added, when Span­ish book pub­lish­ers first trans­lated works by Latin Amer­i­can au­thors like Julio Cor­tazar. But he thought it had long stopped.

Not ev­ery­one agrees. “It is pos­si­ble the con­tro­versy has been mag­ni­fied be­yond what is rea­son­able,” Pe­dro Al­varez de Mi­randa, a mem­ber of the gov­ern­ing board of the Royal Span­ish Academy, guardian of lan­guage in Spain, said in an email. He added that he was not of­fended when he saw “Roma” in a cin­ema, he was sim­ply dis­tracted be­cause the words on screen didn’t match what he heard.

“There is no ‘stan­dard Span­ish,’” he said, and there are no ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween di­alects.

“Films in the Span­ish lan­guage — what­ever their coun­try of ori­gin — do not need to be ‘trans­lated,’” he said. “A Spaniard can see a film shot in Ar­gentina, Colom­bia or Mex­ico without spe­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. And the other way round.”

But the con­tro­versy does raise the wider is­sue of how Net­flix sub­ti­tles films and se­ries as it ex­pands glob­ally, and whether it should use of­fi­cial forms of lan­guages or re­spect lo­cal di­alects and slang.

ADRI­ANA ZEHBRAUSKAS / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Al­fonso Cuarón, the di­rec­tor of “Roma,” vis­its Mex­ico City’s Roma Sur neigh­bor­hood, where he was raised, Dec. 18. Cuaron was dis­pleased that Net­flix pro­duced Castil­ian Span­ish sub­ti­tles for “Roma,” whose ac­tors spoke Mex­i­can Span­ish and the indige­nous Mix­tec lan­guage.

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