Netflix continues to popularize international series in the US

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Reaching 111 million fans 25 days after its release, “Squid Game” had the largest series launch of any Netflix show, according to Netflix’s Twitter. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

There’s something about masked men in red jumpsuits that drew audiences from around the world to South Korean drama “Squid Game” and Spanish crime thriller “Money Heist.”

Reaching 111 million fans within 25 days of its release, “Squid Game” had the largest series launch of any Netflix show, according to Netflix’s Twitter . However, it was not the only foreign language series to garner success this fall — season five of “Money Heist,” also known as “La Casa de Papel,” made it the largest returning show on Netflix during the company’s third financial quarter in 2021, racking up 69 million household viewings in the season’s first four weeks, according to Netflix’s letter to shareholders .

“ ‘La Casa de Papel’ was our first non-English language title to show that — with subtitling and dubbing — great stories truly can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere,” Netflix stated in the letter to shareholders. “We are now producing local TV and film in approximately 45 countries.”

Morgan Podraza, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English who teaches English 2264: “Introduction to Popular Culture Studies,” said Netflix’s global expansion can likely be explained, at least in part, by the profit potential of an international reach.

“Netflix, as an organization, really started looking toward non-English content in part because their subscriber base was growing significantly in countries where English is not the primary language,” Podraza said.

However, Podraza said modern U.S. audiences have also embraced international shows. This is in stark contrast to the prior notion that foreign language content had no place in American popular culture, as it was frequently associated with art-house film, high culture and snobbery, she said.

“We’re seeing a huge shift in that perspective now,” Podraza said. “U.S.-based audiences will be looking more toward that kind of content, and streaming services are looking to accommodate that not only by paying for and co-producing foreign language content, but also by providing subtitles and dubbing.”

Rachel Moore, a 28-year-old Columbus resident, said she saw her first foreign language series, Japan’s “Good Morning Call,” on Netflix about four years ago.

“It’s the classic story of a standoffish guy and then a naive girl who get stuck in an apartment together and have to learn to deal with each other,” Moore said. “I thought it was super cute.”

Since then, Moore — continually receiving new international series recommendations from Netflix — said she has dipped her toes into shows from Korea, Germany, France, Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and Egypt.

Moore said exploration into the depths of Netflix’s global content has allowed her to find new all-time favorite series, such as German sci-fi mystery “Dark.”

“It’s hard to watch sometimes because it’s such an intellectual show,” Moore said. “Watching it in another language, it doesn’t come as easily as if it was just in English, but it’s really special.”

Through her viewing patterns, Moore said she has spotted differences between U.S.-based and international content, specifically in how Korean romances refrain from overly explicit sexual scenes more common in American dramas.

“In America, they are kissing in the first episode, but in Korea, they are kissing in the 10th episode,” Minji Ha, a first-year in chemical engineering who is familiar with U.S. and Korean titles, said.

Ha, who moved to the United States from South Korea when she was 18 years old, said she prefers the slow but satisfying buildup of romance in Korean dramas.

With the growing international popularity of South Korean K-pop groups such as BTS and BLACKPINK, Ha said she was not surprised to see “Squid Game” captivate audiences in the United States.

Although previous familiarity with certain components of a different culture, such as music, may encourage fans to watch shows from a given country, Podraza said international series themselves can also create a deeper, universal appreciation for different cultures.

“Having more foreign language films, having more people of color on screen and having more content created by people from those communities will positively influence perceptions about those communities and our relationships with them,” Podraza said.

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