DI Voices | Foreign films are crucial to American culture

By Milly Zafar, Columnist

Growing up in an immigrant household, foreign films were a Friday night staple for my family. After dinner, my family and I would curl up on the couch and scroll through the myriad of Hollywood movies on Netflix before settling on a Bollywood film.

As a kid, the Bollywood genre was incredibly important to me, but I soon realized many of my classmates didn’t feel the same way — they didn’t even know what Bollywood was. As I grew older, I realized how much of a privilege it was to have watched foreign films from a young age.

With the rise in popularity of films like “Parasite,” “Train to Busan” and “Roma,” it’s more important than ever to recognize their impact. Foreign films are a vessel to understand cultures.

The United States is seen as a “melting pot” of cultures. However, this melting pot is a wholly unique culture in and of itself. There are certain aspects of foreign cultures that are accepted in American society, but many of them are not; an excessive amount of people water down their culture to be more accepted into American society.

For example, some immigrant parents don’t send their children to school with foreign cuisines for fear of their child being stigmatized for their culture. I’ve heard how classmates told their parents as kids not to pack dal chawal — lentils and rice — or roti and gosht — flatbread and meat — for lunch because they feared being ostracized. There exists an unfortunate pressure to adhere to American culture.

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Simultaneously, there is also a desire to follow American cultural norms to become more “American.” Due to this strict adherence to American culture, cultural interactions are diluted to become more palatable for others. This so-called palatability leads many Americans to the false assumption that they understand foreign cultures — and they bring this supposed knowledge with them when they travel abroad.

Americans are notorious for their culturally insensitive behavior in other countries, but watching foreign films can help to educate them and combat the stigma of the inconsiderate American tourist. By watching movies that aren’t modified for American audiences, foreign films demonstrate the cultures of these nations much better. They illustrate cultural nuances that aren’t fully conveyed by something like a meager “culture day” in American elementary schools.

“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” says Bong Joon-Ho after he won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 2020 for “Parasite.” Not only will American audiences be introduced to amazing new films, but they will obtain invaluable knowledge that cannot be conveyed through everyday interactions.

With the growing popularity of films and series like “Squid Game,” “Money Heist” and “Parasite,” I hope to see more foreign films being released at my local AMC instead of having to rely on whatever crumbs Netflix can offer me. One can only hope the rising prevalence of foreign movies will result in American viewers ascertaining a more complete understanding and appreciation of the cultures that these films so beautifully represent.


Milly is a freshman in LAS.

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