OPINION: The Importance of Watching Foreign Media

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Though I can possibly consider “Pokémon” or “Ponyo” my introduction to foreign shows and films, my interest truly developed following a TikTok. After scrolling on my TikTok For You Page for what I will assume was over an hour, I came across a video of a creator discussing a Korean drama, and only a few seconds passed before I realized I recognized the name — it was the name of a very popular Webtoon I had read a year or so prior. I immediately looked it up and my phone screen flooded with articles about this week’s episode rating, confirming my question of if the story was adapted to the screen. It was this video, this moment, this drama that sparked my interest in foreign media. 

After finishing the show discussed in the TikTok, I watched many romance Korean dramas (Kdramas) for some time before expanding my repertoire into different genres from different countries like China, Taiwan, Thailand and Japan. With every new environment, unfamiliar dialect and tone, beautiful acting job, and captivating plot, my passion and adoration for East-Asian dramas grew. I watched enough to recommend shows to people, have my own favorites from every genre and even know my favorite actors and actresses. 

Though I consider watching foreign films and shows a hobby of mine, it is in the same level of respect and affinity of your average “movie buff.” Social media has put me under the belief that many individuals consider foreign media a genre of its own — furthering the gap between American and other global productions. It has been normalized to say one likes Kdramas — an entire country’s production of televised works — rather than simply stating the genre they favor, such as action or thriller. It is casual language like this that perpetuates the “them versus us” mindset in the media and film industries. However, I may be wrong in this perception, as a Bellevue College student shared the following in a survey released about foreign media this past week: “I think it’s great to get a taste of other cultures, histories and forms of storytelling! Though, for the most part, I seek out individual films and/or shows rather than the ‘genre’ itself — so I don’t say, ‘I’m going to watch a foreign film now;’ it’s more spontaneous.” 

Though Hollywood has produced massively well-done works, once in a while, a foreign film like “Parasite” or a show like “Squid Game” catches the American people’s attention. Though I am happy foreign media is getting positive attention from our nation’s eyes, and I am glad Wong Kar-wai is receiving recognition for his unique stories and beautiful cinematography, there are thousands of other talented Asian and other foreign directors currently in the field. To name just a few, there’s Hwang Da Seul, who directed Kdramas “Blueming” and “To My Star”; Alejandro “Álex” Pina Calafi, who was the creator and director of Netflix’s hit Spanish series “Money Heist”; Meriç Acemi, who created a Turkish show also on Netflix called “Love 101”; Boss Naruebet Kuno, a Thai director for “I Told Sunset About You”; Kim Chul Gyu, who directed “Chicago Typewriter” and one of my favorite suspense dramas, “Flower of Evil.” No matter the country of origin, there are talented directors, producers and creators all across the globe, and I hope more people are encouraged to seek them out. In our survey, 11% shared they were not looking to explore more foreign films soon, while 89% hoped to.

This same survey also revealed that 56% of voters watch foreign media, while 44% do it on occasion. Of these individuals, 11% watch it English-dubbed, while the majority (89%) watch it in its original language with subtitles. “As an international student in the US, I don’t really have a direct link to people who grew up within my culture anymore,” one survey submitter shared. “I don’t talk to friends and family back home often because of timezones and watching media from back home is a way for me to (re)connect with my culture, I guess!” Another student shared that “as an avid film enjoyer, some of the most intriguing films are foreign ones. Some of the best filmmakers come from Europe, for example.” Additionally, if one hopes to speak a foreign language, watching films with it dramatically helps in learning it faster — as shown through a study by the University of Washington.

As of publication, I have seen roughly a hundred East-Asian dramas and a few Turkish, Spanish and Swedish shows. Watching foreign media has made me better understand our world, our society, cultural differences and barriers, and how knowledge enables us to have additional connections with people around the globe. It has also impassioned me to encourage others to expand their watchlist as well.