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BBC pledges to improve portrayal of disabled people

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Jerk

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Jerk tells the story Tim (second right), who uses his cerebral palsy to get away with things

The BBC has promised a more “authentic and distinctive” representation of disabled people on screen.

The corporation has announced a string of new shows and said there will be an “enhanced portrayal in existing programmes”.

New commissions include a “deeply personal film” from BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner.

The Last Leg’s Alex Brooker will tackle “the true nature of his disability for the first time” in Disability And Me.

Meanwhile, actor and writer Mat Fraser will curate “challenging” monologues, all performed by someone with a disability.

Comedy Jerk, which follows a man who knows having cerebral palsy means he can get away with almost anything, will return for a new series.

Announcing the “concerted drive to go further on representation” in 2020, the BBC also said there would include better “incidental and integrated” representation in existing shows.

Blind broadcaster and entrepreneur Amar Latif will join the line-up of Pilgrimage, and actress and comedian Liz Carr will delve into her family tree in Who Do You Think You Are? Disabled panellists will also appear on Celebrity Mastermind and Would I Lie To You?

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Frank Gardner will front Being Frank, 16 years after he was shot by al-Qaeda gunmen in Saudi Arabia

The broadcaster has also put forward new measures to give disabled people more opportunities behind the scenes.

A scheme called BBC Elevate is designed to allow production staff to get experience on hit shows like Strictly Come Dancing, The Apprentice and EastEnders.

It is intended to “make a tangible difference to the careers of many talented disabled people in TV, who face some particular challenges with progression”, the corporation said.

Alison Kirkham, controller of factual commissioning, said the industry “hasn’t always done enough to offer opportunities for disabled people and so has missed out on their talent”.

“We want to set the bar forever higher, for the entire industry, both with off-screen talent and on-screen representation,” she said.

  • Disabled workers suffer pay penalty

The BBC has committed to increasing the number of disabled people in its workforce to 12% by 2022. The latest official figure, from March 2018, stood at 10.4%.

The broadcaster will also introduce a “BBC Passport” to ensure staff with disabilities get the right support when they change jobs.

Disability equality charity Scope welcomed the BBC’s commitment, which was made on International Day Of People With Disabilities on Tuesday.

“Disability remains hugely underrepresented on our screens and behind the scenes, particularly as one in five people are disabled,” Scope’s head of communications Warren Kirwan said.

“When disabled people don’t see themselves represented, talent and potential go unrecognised and negative attitudes and stigma goes unchallenged.”

Analysis – Alex Taylor, BBC Current Affairs

Awareness of how the media portrays disability has grown in recent years. This ranges from the increasingly vocal outcry over non-disabled actors playing characters with disabilities to the embracing of Paddy Smyth, recent winner of reality show The Circle, who openly addressed his cerebral palsy throughout.

This means the BBC’s commitment is timely, spurred on as it is by last year’s damning industry representation findings. It also marks a natural progression at a time when The Travel Show host and ex-Paralympian Ade Adepitan recently visited Africa to front an eponymous prime-time series for BBC Two, alongside his Children in Need presenting duties.

While it is one thing to use recognised disabled talent for disability-related stories, the true test will be how deep-rooted and wide-reaching the integration becomes.

How much narrative control will be afforded to journalists who live the stories we want to tell? How far will disability representation seep into mainstream storylines, and how many disabled staff will become permanent fixtures off screen?

As a journalist who entered the BBC through its Extend scheme two years ago, I am aware of the efforts being made.

This latest commitment marks a promising start for broader change, but there’s more work to do. And disabled talent needs to be trusted to lead this change across the industry as a whole, not simply be a part of it.

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Dubs or subs? Parasite renews debate on how to watch foreign films

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South Korean director Bong Joon-ho

The South Korean dark comedy film Parasite had a historic awards season sweep – and in the process, reignited the debate over whether subtitles or dubbing is the best way to watch a movie that isn’t in your native language.

As director Bong Joon Ho accepted the first-ever best foreign language picture Golden Globe for a South Korean film, he said: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Fast forward a month, and he was making history again, accepting the best picture award once more at the Oscars. Parasite’s Oscar win introduced it to a broad US audience – but not everyone was in favour of watching the award winner in its original language.

Dubbing takes the stress out of enjoying a foreign film, some argued, and performances are meant to be heard, not read. The angered response from subtitle fans ranged from accusations of racism to pointing out the needs of deaf viewers.

How you watch a foreign film is a clearly personal matter, tangled in pet peeves and accessibility. But as foreign flicks are gaining more screen time before American audiences, here’s a deeper dive into how we got here, and where the industry is headed.

In the early days of film, on-screen text was far from a “one-inch barrier” – it was the only way to express dialogue. Title cards were the precursor to subtitles, and they, too, were controversial in a way that mirrors the modern debate.

Stage actors would try to hide their work in silent film as many felt the lack of sound diminished the quality of the performance, Professor Marsha McKeever, academic director of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, told the BBC.

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Silent era film stars (from left) Mary Pickford, David Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks

But when conversations took place through cards instead of sound, adapting films to other languages was straightforward. As “movies” turned into “talkies”, subtitling emerged as a way to hold onto a lucrative foreign market.

It has since become the preferred way for film critics and connoisseurs to view foreign language features. NYU faculty, for example, would be unlikely to show a dub in class, the university’s graduate film department said.

For Prof McKeever, who is also a sound and picture editor, much of enjoying a movie boils down to what you hear.

“We react so emotionally to sound. That’s why films are scored, that’s why dialogue is important.”

If a dub has sub-par voice acting or doesn’t properly sync with what you see on screen, it can negatively affect your perception, Prof McKeever says. With subtitles, the audience both sees the original performance and hears the original emotion.

“Your brain is so used to hearing emotion in language that it will get the meaning behind the subtitle through the performance by the actor in the original language. You hear if they’re sad, if they’re happy.”

Regardless of what film purists say, however, dubbing is on the rise.

For that, you can blame Netflix.

In October, Netflix reported it had more subscribers outside the US – nearly 100 million – than domestically, where just over 60 million pay for the service.

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The streaming giant is driving the dubbing business by producing content around the world and localising it for a number of markets, says Jeff Howell, a vocal coach and director who works with Netflix.

To “localise” a production, the original studio hires professionals to analyse scenes and translate them to a new language.

Mr Howell has worked both as a vocal director and an “adapter” who works on casting and direction. “We spend quite a bit of time casting, sometimes we have to read-to-picture to make sure the voice sounds like it’s coming out of that mouth,” he says.

Dubbing has a bad reputation because, for years, it was badly done, he says – there was a lack of attention to detail to the voice acting and post-production processes.

But today, professionals are focusing on ways to make it better, carefully interpreting scripts and taking into consideration things like “lip flap” – when the mouth movement and dubbed-over voice do not sync up.

Dubbing defenders say that modern viewing habits make it superior to subtitles.

Mr Howell argues that dubbing is better for audiences as they increasingly view films and series on small, portable screens. “You can’t read subtitles on a phone or iPad, really,” he says.

And dubbing is easier on the brain. Getting information from a caption requires eye movements across a screen, cognitive input to interpret the words while also paying attention to the action on the screen.

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An educated US adult can do all three fluently, says Prof Charles Perfetti, a cognitive science professor at the University of Pittsburgh, but a less skilled reader will find it taxing.

For viewers with visual impairments, those cannot read or have conditions like dyslexia, dubbing is the only way they can enjoy media in non-native languages.

Outside the English-speaking world, dubbing has been less controversial. Much of Europe opts for dubbing in lieu of subtitles, though the latter is cheaper. Germany, Italy and France have dubbed foreign films since the 1930s – even as early critics blasted the process as “witchcraft” and an “amputation” of the original. China has also consistently dubbed films into Standard Mandarin.

Netflix’s dubbing efforts seem to be converting some Americans to the cause. Most US viewers preferred the dubbed versions of its most popular foreign shows, the streaming service told the New York Times.

As a dubbing director in this new streaming-heavy world, Mr Howell emphasises that he works to respect the original content – “to protect it”, not change it- though he admits some alterations are unavoidable.

“There are cultural nuances in language that we can’t possibly recreate,” he says. “We can have the greatest adaptation and it could line up almost perfectly but there are going to be subtle differences that don’t translate.

“It’s not 100% but I’d say we get as close as we possibly can, directing it in such a way that we’re protecting the creative integrity of the culture that created the material.”

And to be fair, alterations happen with subtitles too – language can be simplified to allow for quick reading in time with the action on screen.

Debates aside, outside of the streaming realm, foreign-language films still struggle to reach US markets.

As of 2020, only 12 have ever been released in more than 1,000 American theatres, according to data viewed by Quartz. Before Parasite, the last was Jet Li’s Fearless in 2006. When it debuted in October, the 2020 Best Picture Oscar winner was screened in only three theatres.

Yet, as its awards success has shown, a good film will captivate audiences no matter in what language. Subtitled films have rarely grossed over $100m (£77m), but Parasite has already surpassed $200m worldwide.

The biggest foreign language film to find success in the US to date is the Chinese drama Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which grossed $128m in 2000 and won the Oscar and Golden Globe awards for best foreign language film.

“What it speaks to more than anything is we’re looking at filmmaking as the craft, not being bogged down in where it’s made and who is saying what in what language,” says Prof McKeever. “Is it a good story, is it done well, are we there emotionally with the actors?

“Regardless of language, that’s the heart of moviemaking.”



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Hip-hop’s iconic photos go on display

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The International Center of Photography in New York is showcasing photos of hip-hop’s greatest stars.

The ICP’s Vikki Tobak describes the exhibition as watching your favourite musical icons grow up in front of your eyes.

Included in the project is the photographer behind the famous image of The Notorious B.I.G wearing a crown.



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'Riverdance has been a part of my everyday life'

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It’s 25 years since Riverdance first burst onto screens during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest.



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