Localization & Race: Disney’s Dubbing Controversy

Disney/Pixar’s localization of the movie Soul has generated some race-related controversy, according to The Independent. Released in 41 different countries, the film is about a Black jazz player who tries to reunite his body and his soul after the two accidentally split apart. It’s only the fourth animated movie in the history of American cinema to feature a Black character in the leading role.

The film hasn’t gone without criticism in the United States, where cultural news sites like Gizmodo, Screen Rant, and Insider have pointed out that Soul seems to lean into Black stereotypes. In its original English version, the film uses a white actor to voice the main, Black character’s soul — something Gizmodo and others claim removes Black agency.


In Denmark and Germany, white actors voice the character’s body as well, sparking the Danish controversy. (If German cinema-goers are upset, the media is yet to report it.) “A number of activists and scholars suggested that [the] casting was an example of structural racism,” reports The Independent. Nikolaj Lie Kaas — the voice actor who received the lead Danish part — said, “My position with regards to any job is very simple. Let the man or woman who can perform the work in the best possible way get the job.”

The language industry, however, has long considered non-qualification related factors in “who gets the job.” In interpreting especially, US providers often pair limited-English proficients (LEP) with interpreters of the same gender for assignments, based on language and topic. If an LEP has been raped, for example, crisis centers may require a same gender interpreter as a way to help minimize trauma. For religious reasons, female Arabic and Somali speakers also may require female interpreters for medical visits. In these instances, a man very well may be the best interpreter in town, but other factors must be considered in awarding the job. That said, film localization is a different field and appears to adhere to different standards in at least some cases.

MultiLingualStaff
MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.

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