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The Drama Around Netflix’s Subtitles, Explained

It’s not just about Squid Game

Who ever thought that a single Tiktok raise could question Netflix’s credibility? And yet it did. 

Amidst the outpouring of Squid Game talk on social media, Tiktok user youngmiamer, who is fluent in both Korean and English, was attentive enough to raise an important issue for the streaming service; its inadequate subtitles. 

Putting a big issue under the spotlight, the Tiktok shows a couple of examples where Netflix subtitles miss the meaning of the characters’ dialogue. Youngmiamer’s message is perfectly clear. She shows a couple of scenes from the Korean Drama where the subtitles go wrong, and explains how that alters a simple viewer’s understanding of the show, especially when one misses out on important details that were subtly infused into the dialogue.

@youngmimayer##squidgame translations are sooo wrong here’s a little example♬ original sound – youngmi

One of the examples mentioned was when Mi-Nyeo, one of the characters, originally says in Korean ‘I’m very smart, I just never got the chance to study’, the Netflix English subtitles read ‘I’m not a genius, but I still got it work out’

Completely washing out a crucial part of Mi-Nyeo’s history, the subtitles also end up ‘messing up’ the showmakers’ original plan for the character and the people it’s made to represent. Which in this case would be a huge portion of the Korean society, who just isn’t wealthy enough to pursue education, despite being smart, bright even.

If you have watched Squid Game, you must already know the following. Don’t worry, no spoilers ahead. Beautifully and intelligently written, the show holds meaning and layers beyond what you can hear and see. Although it’s a fictional drama, the series depicts Korean realities, as it actually bases itself on a real life Korean children’s game, and delves into the depths of Korean Society and its intricacies.

So, for the rest of the international viewers, who might not grasp more Korean-specific details and nuances, things get lost in translation, and the issue goes beyond an incorrect subtitle. It becomes a real problem when it starts -literally- misrepresenting a character’s experience through life, and in consequence the real-life people the character aims to portray. 

Netflix in itself might not really be the one to blame, as the subtitles are usually intentionally simplified to help the user easily follow a show or movie. But users’ expectations are changing, and they’re holding the platform accountable for not hiring the right people, who would convey through the translated subtitles the original meaning behind every sentence. 

While we wait for an official statement by the streaming giant, it’s important to note that whether we’re talking major productions like Squid Game, or lesser known films and series, there definitely needs to be more effort put in to staying true to the vision of the show developers, and being more mindful of the role of language on holding cultural references, on a platform that seeks to represent everyone equally.

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