I’ve been watching Turkish films/ series lately, and before that, I watched Spanish, Portuguese, and a myriad of other “foreign” films. I put foreign in quotes because America has made us think of all non-American movies as foreign films, when, as a Kenyan, American movies are also foreign to us. I’m not too fond of the connotation of foreign because it indicates an otherness- a distinction- that’s often made people hesitant to watch these films.
They say when you go black, you don’t go back. I say, when you start to watch movies made outside America, by non-Americans, you begin to see that you’ve been selling yourself short. You’ve denied yourself access to brilliant storylines and cultural enlightenment at the cost of subtitles. I can see you cringe because you hate subtitles, but hear me out.
I love subtitles. For me, they enhance the movie experience by filling in what I miss out on because of the accents, actions, or talking speed. They force me to pay attention. I can also cheat and say I read, even when I haven’t touched a book in weeks. But the thing I love most is that they give me access to thousands of movies and series from places in the world. If you’ve watched at least the first two seasons of Money Heist, you know what I mean. Not a good example? Okay. If you watched Miracle in Cell No. 7, you know how much potential is out there.
Honestly, after I started watching these non-American movies, it became hard to tolerate American film because I found them shallow and often rushed. I’ve also seen it all when it comes to this category. There’s nothing new. Nothing exciting. Just more of America’s obsession with itself.
I’ve watched five seasons of Cable Girls, a Spanish series, without getting bored. It had been a while since I was that dedicated to a TV show. I’ve watched Girls from Ipanema. And many other Spanish shows. And I loved how they portrayed women. Set in the years when the telephone was starting to become popular, all these things have one thing in common. The women are not damsels in distress. They are strong, confident, imperfect women who get shit done.
I’ve been watching Intersection, a Turkish show, for the better part of July. Each episode is about two hours long, and I don’t have to tell you how much patience you need to have to watch this. But I was so invested because it taught me so many things about the Turkish. They are sarcastic, humorous, yet take their values very seriously. They speak in questions and rarely give straightforward answers. They are like us in the way they shy away from PDA. There’s one family whereby the daughter was always in trouble with the mom. It reminded me of my teen to early adulthood year fights with my mom when I stayed out too late or was seen with a boy. I kept watching, two-hour episode after a two-hour episode because I felt deeply connected with the characters. Americans can talk back to their parents without reproach, French kiss in the streets- actions that are mostly still taboo here.
I’m getting sentimental, but seriously, Netflix is doing an excellent job with the “foreign films.” In an era where representation is so essential, the media-services provider is giving people a platform to tell their stories. No more white people taking up Spanish or Italian roles. People are telling their own stories in their way. I think that is beautiful and essential.
Bottom line, if you can get past the subtitles’ issue, there are a lot of goodies in store for you. There’s also a voiceover option on Netflix, like in soaps. But that only robs you of an authentic experience of the culture. You know the way some things are just sweeter when said in your mother tongue? It’s the same. Listen to how they talk. Watch how they gesture. The voiceovers give you an inauthentic experience, and you’ll probably end up giving up on a good film. If you can get past the subtitles or the idea of “foreign”, you can dive into the cultures of the Scottish, Afghans, Brits, South Africans, Portuguese, French, Italians, Turks, and many more from the comfort of your living room.