Lost in translation? American movies get dubbed in the Middle East

As the demand for American movies increases in the Middle East, films like 'The Godfather' are receiving a new voice.

By , Contributor

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Hiba Azzam giggled and tossed her long dark hair. “Of course I was nervous playing opposite Al Pacino,” she laughed. “When you are in these kinds of movies, you have to get it right.”

Ms. Azzam is referring to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” films, the sprawling Hollywood epics that have become some of the latest motion pictures to be caught up in a growing phenomenon across the Middle East – Arabic language dubbing.

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For the past eight months, Pan-Arab satellite-TV companies MBC and Showtime Arabia have been broadcasting hundreds of Tinseltown movies across the region. Previous attempts to translate them had been to add subtitles in classical Arabic. But in a region where 70 million people ages 15 and older are unable to read, this attempt effectively ignored many Arabs whose only form of communication is through one of the regional spoken dialects.

Some viewers remain skeptical. But according to Samer Shalaty, a film art director who now produces dubbed movies for the Showtime Arabia channel, the region’s thirst for American cinema means that dubbing is here to stay.

“Arabs want to watch American films. When you see American films, you feel very much alive,” says Mr. Shalaty.

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