Steven Spielberg Omits Spanish Subtitles in ‘West Side Story’

20th Century Studios
20th Century Studios

Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited remake of Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical, West Side Story, is raising eyebrows after the director decided to release the film without subtitles to help English-speaking audiences follow along with the Spanish dialog.

Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner decided to hew toward authenticity for the scenes involving the Puerto Rican characters and have them speak in Spanish in many of their scenes. However, Spielberg also decided to forego subtitles to help strictly English-speaking audiences understand what the characters are saying in the Spanish-only and mixed Spanish-English scenes, The Blast reported.

Some Spanish-speaking commenters on Twitter were thrilled that Spielberg was excluding English-speakers from understanding the Spanish scenes.

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Journalist Yolanda Machado, for one, was amazed at the director’s decision to dump the subtitles for the Spanish scenes. Machado saw the issue as a strike against white racism.

“West Side Story is fantastic. White people gonna be big mad tho and good. Bless you Steven Spielberg for not subtitling when our people use our language. In a country where nearly 20 percent of the population speaks Spanish, the subtitles just further keep us othered,” she tweeted. Later, though, she deleted the divisive tweet.

Others also loved Spielberg’s decision. Globe and Mail film editor Barry Hertz praised the lack of subtitles, calling the decision and “invigorating choice.” Film critic Jeff Nelson insisted that the lack of subtitles “didn’t upset” him at all. And Forbes film writer Scott Mendelson exclaimed that audiences would “barely give it a second thought.”

But for others, the dearth of subtitles caused disappointment among those who have hearing problems or who don’t speak Spanish.

“The Deaf community already struggles to have equal access to entertainment in the film industry. American Sign Language (ASL) is a language with a completely different grammatical structure from English or Spanish,” The Blast reported, “however, there are Deaf individuals that are able to read and write in both English and Spanish. Removing subtitles from the film completely alienates them from understanding anything at all.”

Several Twitter users echoed that sentiment and wondered why Spielberg would exclude fans who have hearing issues.

One disappointed fan wrote, “What about the people who don’t understand Spanish or are deaf or hard of hearing? Shame on you, Steven.”

Another, who wrote that he is a third generation American of Mexican descent, noted that his Spanish is limited, so he won’t bother seeing the film if he can’t understand half of what is being said.

For his part, Spielberg has made no public comment about the decision to eschew subtitles.

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