Translating intercultural interactions in the Netflix-branded film American Factory

Bei Hu

The Netflix-branded film American Factory glaringly illustrates China’s and the United States’s contrasting views on capitalism, propaganda, and labour rights. The film directors have argued that the entangling of clashing civilisations that permeates numerous layers of the documentary is delivered in a subtle and nuanced manner. However, the English and Chinese subtitles of the multilingual film’s bilingual dialogue are found to frequently, and usually implicitly, show varying levels of translator intervention that may alter the degree of cultural difference and opposition. By investigating the inherent translator interventions in the presentation of cultural allusions in Netflix’s English- and Chinese-translated subtitles of the bilingual dialogue in the film, this study focuses on the extent to which these interventions are discursively juxtaposed with Netflix’s media logic. Special attention is paid to how intercultural positions are perceived by heterogeneous viewers in China and the United States. This article argues that streaming media giants, such as Netflix, exert an influence on the representation of cultural nuances in multilingual films. Hence, the study calls for a reflexive view of streaming media translation research that acknowledges the complex power dynamics resulting from audio-visual intercultural communication and its corresponding implications for intercultural relations.

Publication history
Table of contents

‘See what’s next.’ Netflix’s promotional tagline is an invitation to view the abundant audio-visual content that is instantly available for its global audiences at the click of a button. The rapid development of subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, such as Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime Video, over the last decade is a resounding victory for the expansion and acceleration of media networks that has challenged the long-standing debate (Nordenstreng and Varis 1974; Katz and Wedell 1977) regarding the direction of one-way West-to-rest global media flows (e.g., Liebes and Katz 1990; Cunningham and Silver 2013; Lobato 2018). Users of SVOD platforms have also become accustomed to an asynchronous, nonlinear way of watching characterised by “à la carte selection from algorithmically curated catalogues of content” (Lobato 2018, 1). Media scholarship (e.g., Tryon 2013; Lotz 2014, 2017; Cunningham and Scarlata 2020) has set out to map how nonlinear SVOD distribution – “internet TV services,” as Lobato (2018, 2) terms it – has seriously challenged previous postulates of the global media landscape.

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