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Fans of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma are up in arms over the decision of distributors in Spain to subtitle the Mexican drama from Spanish into, well, Spanish.
Roma, which won the top prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival and just picked up Golden Globes for best director and foreign-language film, is almost entirely in Mexican-accented Spanish. But for its release in Spain, both in theaters and on Netflix in the territory, the pic has been subtitled into Castilian Spanish, the version of the language most commonly spoken there.
Many, including the director himself, question the necessity, or the rationale, behind the linguistic adaption.
“I find it very offensive for the Spanish public that Roma has been subtitled into Castilian Spanish,” Cuaron on Tuesday told Spanish news agency Efe. “I think it’s very, very ridiculous.”
Cuaron compared it to subtitling Spanish films in Mexico: “I don’t need subtitles into Mexican to understand [Spanish director Pedro] Almodovar.”
On Wednesday, Spain’s El Pais newspaper quoted Cuaron from an email stating: “It’s parochial, ignorant and offensive to Spaniards themselves… One of the things I most enjoy is the color and texture of other accents.”
The subtitling controversy has been slowly brewing on Twitter for the last few weeks since the film premiered Dec. 5 on five screens in Spain and Dec. 14 on Netflix, which offers subtitles in “European Spanish.” Netflix paid $20 million for worldwide rights to the black-and-white drama and is making Cuaron’s film the focus of a major Oscar campaign.
Barcelona-based Mexican author Jordi Soler on Dec. 16 tweeted: “In Spain Roma by @alfonsocuaron is subtitled in peninsular Spanish, which is paternalistic, offensive and profoundly provincial.” His tweet elicited hundreds of comments.
En España Roma de @alfonsocuaron está subtitulada en español peninsular, lo cual es paternalista, ofensivo y profundamente provinciano
— Jordi Soler (@jsolerescritor) December 16, 2018
At issue, as one linguist explained in the El Pais article, is the “translation” of the film’s dialogues rather than the “transcription” — in other words, that concepts were changed for the Spanish audience despite the common language. The article gives specific examples from the movie, including changing “mommy” to “mother” or turning the name of a Mexican Twinkie-style cake into a similar-sounding Spanish Cheetos-style snack.
Some defended the logic. Mexican Alfredo Acle Tomasini replied to Soler’s original tweet that he sometimes has “trouble understanding the dialogues” of Spanish films “because of the accent or the phrasing” and would “appreciate subtitles in order to enjoy them.”
Netflix told The Hollywood Reporter via email it had no official statement on the matter. Roma‘s Spanish theatrical distributor A Contracorriente has not yet responded to requests for comment.
This isn’t the first time Netflix has faced issues with Spanish accents. The first season of the drug-trafficking drama Narcos, which is set in Colombia, was criticized in the Spanish-speaking world for its blend of accents from across Latin America, Spain and the U.S.
A reviewer for Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper objected at the time: “Everyone has a different accent to create the neutral Latino without accents. It’s more like Miami than Colombia … Narcos may do well outside Colombia, but here it produces annoyance and laughter.”
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