Homeland‘s Bad Urdu.

I watch very little TV and it’s unlikely I would have watched Homeland anyway (I still have to catch up with the second season of The Americans), but this sharp critique by Fatima Shakeel, a Pakistani who would like to like the show, makes it even more unlikely. Most of it is not LH material, but this section assuredly is:

Nobody speaks the bizarre, nonsensical language of the “local” characters on Homeland.
Imagine a show about New York City in which the “native New Yorkers” spoke English like the characters on Downton Abbey, spending wildly inaccurate amounts of money to go to nonexistent places. That’s what it feels like to watch Homeland if you speak Urdu.

Homeland consistently botches the most fundamental aspects of Urdu conversation, in ways that are both painful and hilarious to anyone who actually speaks it. If someone inquires about the whereabouts of their family members, and you have to tell them that they died in a drone strike, you don’t say “mujhe maaf kijiye,” as the strange, veiled woman in Homeland‘s premiere does. Saying that does not mean “I’m sorry for your loss”; it means “forgive me,” implying that she personally murdered the inquirer’s family members.

The English accents are just as inauthentic. In real life, Pakistani English sounds nothing like the oft-caricatured Indian English accent. On Homeland, however, Pakistani characters speaking in English sound either like Apu from The Simpsons or like the carpet merchant singing the opening song of Disney’s Aladdin.

I find it hard to believe that the show’s producers couldn’t find a single native Urdu speaker or any Pakistani actors. At the very least, why not hire a language consultant? If Game of Thrones can hire a linguist to properly construct believable, fictional languages like Valyrian and Dothraki, why can’t Homeland hire somebody to check the basics of a real-world language?

Why indeed? Like Shakeel, I don’t expect a TV series to get everything right, but this level of contempt for an actual city and its inhabitants is so repellent I refuse to pay it the tribute of watching the show.

Comments

  1. If the show really is as hostile to Islooites (a new word for me!) as she says, it might be difficult to find anyone who’s both knowledgable enough to do a better job and willing to actually do so. I know that I wouldn’t be interested in helping add authenticity to a depiction in Japanese drama of Australia as a grim hellhole full of violent fanatics. (Well, unless the story took place in Sydney, of course.)

  2. I’ve heard similar complaints about the “Albanian” in TAKEN.

  3. Pakistan is a country where almost everyone speaks English.

    I believe Pakistan has more English speakers than UK.

    It’s very different form of English, true, but is English nevertheless and it is getting more and more native with each generation.

    Misleading depiction of Pakistan in “Homeland” serves a purpose, though.

    You can’t tell Americans that the country we are bombing every day is an English-speaking country, just like the United States .

  4. The English accents are just as inauthentic. In real life, Pakistani English sounds nothing like the oft-caricatured Indian English accent.

    I’ve nothing to contribute on the rest of her review, but the Pakistani English of my (educated, medical) colleagues has many similarities with the oft-caricatured Indian English accent, as would be expected with an English heavily influenced by Hindustani for both Indians and Pakistanis.

    I haven’t read it explicitly anywhere, so I’ll mention it here; they tell me that the language of their medical notes and ward rounds and so on is English, that medicine in general is through English there. Which makes things easier for them when they leave the NWFP and start working in Sligo three days later, having left Pakistan for the first time in their lives, but must be a hurdle for learning medicine in the first place. It’s still only a fortunate minority who are actually native.

  5. Jongseong Park says:

    Getting foreign languages (and cultures) laughably wrong is pretty much the norm in popular entertainment in most parts of the world, not just the U.S. So when they do get things right, it stands out. Like when I heard my Syrian-American friend praise the miniseries Carlos for being authentically multilingual and especially for the actors portraying various Arab nationalities getting all the accents right—a Palestinian sounds like a Palestinian, a Lebanese sounds like a Lebanese, etc.

    During my time in the Korean Army, the soldiers used to rent DVDs of TV series to watch together in the evenings, including shows like Lost that have Korean characters. We couldn’t sit through any of the Korean-speaking scenes without cracking up at the Korean-American accents and awkward line-readings. But Lost counts as a huge improvement in the portrayal of Koreans in U.S. popular culture, where Korean characters were routinely portrayed by actors of non-Korean Asian background. At least one of the two main Korean characters was played by an actual Korean actress who speaks perfect Korean and had acted in Korean films, and the other Korean characters were all played by people of Korean descent. Well, except the little girl who cried out what was supposed to be appa (“daddy”) as English “ah! pa!” in one season 1 episode. She neither sounded nor looked Korean at all.

  6. I think the old, 1950s Hollywood movie about Genghis Khan stands out.

    The entire cast lacked not only Mongolian actors (which is understandbale and excusable), but even Asian ones.

    Genghis Khan was played by Omar Shariff!

    And his wife was blonde…

  7. the movie “Syriana” had appropriate Arabic accents for the Saudi and Lebanese characters, and I think Egyptian as well (but I may not be remembering this correctly).

  8. So when they do get things right, it stands out. Like when I heard my Syrian-American friend praise the miniseries Carlos for being authentically multilingual and especially for the actors portraying various Arab nationalities getting all the accents right—a Palestinian sounds like a Palestinian, a Lebanese sounds like a Lebanese, etc.

    That’s good to know, and I’d be glad to hear of other such cases when it was done right.

  9. Hah! If you watched the ‘Thorn Birds’ miniseries (with Richard Chamberlain) you’d realise that Hollywood can’t even get native English-language accents right. There was only one genuine Australian accent in the whole series (Bryan Brown). There wasn’t the slightest attempt to have any of the actors sound even slightly Australian.

  10. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Last night we watched “Go Fast: au cœur du trafic” on television. One of the less important characters seemed to be a representative of the CIA (though I think one had to deduce that rather than being told it explicitly). He was fluent in French — fair enough, as it’s a French film — but he spoke with a definite British accent (quite different from an American accent in French), which didn’t make a lot of sense. Probably they thought that as long as he sounded as if English was his native language that would be enough for most of the public. I thought the actor was probably British, but as far as I can work out from the web he was Grégory Gadebois, who is certainly French. If so he can do a very creditable British accent, but he can’t do an American one.

  11. Count yourself lucky we aren’t all still watching silent movies. For all Hollywood cares about sound (including dialogue) we might as well be.

  12. I dunno, silent movies are pretty great, and they were often visually more interesting.

  13. “Why indeed?”

    Too cheap. Too lazy. Mostly though, too dismissive of their audience’s intelligence.

    SFR,

    “I think the old, 1950s Hollywood movie about Genghis Khan stands out.”

    If it’s any comfort, everyone connected with shooting that movie died of one cancer or another. They shot the whole thing on a nuclear missile range in Nevada before people had realized how stupid that was. So there is justice in the universe.

    “You can’t tell Americans that the country we are bombing every day is an English-speaking country, just like the United States .”

    You and I are language people, so that kind of thing matters to us, but for most people the religion thing is justification enough.

    Bathrobe,
    “There wasn’t the slightest attempt to have any of the actors sound even slightly Australian.”

    Again, they’re too cheap. Sub-titling is expensive.

  14. Jim, I don’t like joking about those cancer deaths as justice in the universe. The same fate befell many of the cast and crew of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, an acclaimed film.

    With regard to bad accents, the Russian ambassador in Dr. Strangelove (played by British actor Peter Bull) is my earliest memory of foreign-language dialogue that was so laughably inept and heavily accented that even I, who spoke no Russian at the time, could tell there was something very wrong.

  15. J. W. Brewer says:

    To what extent would “authentic” scenes set in Islamabad involve the locals speaking Urdu (the L1 of <10% of the Pakistani population, I believe mostly the descendants of emigres/refugees who left India at Partition) to each other rather than, say, Punjabi? I assume they mostly would have at least learned some Urdu in school but there must be diglossia/code-switching conventions as to when you do and don't actually use it.

  16. AJP Crowne says:

    Talking of the languages of the Indian subcontinent (and for anyone who knows London) here, from Reading Brentwood – from Telugu in the West to Polish, Tagalog, Romanian & Cantonese in the East – is a map called Second Language at Tube Stops The title must mean “second language after English”, not second language of the speaker. It’s not perfect, but it’s still quite interesting (the new Polish stops, for example). I’d like to know more about the Japanese in Acton. Why Acton?

  17. “Genghis Khan was played by Omar Shariff!”

    Ironically, though, doesn’t Persian tradition hold that Genghis Khan had red hair and green eyes? He may have looked more Uighur than modern Mongolian.

  18. J. W. Brewer says:

    I don’t know about London, but in the NYC area there aren’t a lot of “permanent” Japanese-American immigrants (or assimilated descedants thereof) but there are quite a few Japanese businessmen working here temporarily with their families along. They tend to cluster in a few parts of the suburbs so that they can be near e.g. the one private school offering Japanese-language instruction, the grocery stores that specialize in otherwise hard-to-find imported-from-Japan items, and the like. I assume there is a fair amount of historical contingency as to why that community and its related “infrastructure” ended up in one part of the metropolitan area rather than another.

  19. “Ironically, though, doesn’t Persian tradition hold that Genghis Khan had red hair and green eyes?”

    The Kyrgyz are also said to have had red hair, but I wonder if that was due to some sort of tradition of dying one’s hair. Roman testimony says that Germanic men would dye their hair red, so it was a thing at least somewhere in Eurasia in prehistory, and I would find that more likely than these peoples going entirely from “Caucasian” to “Mongoloid” features in less than a millennium.

  20. This is why the Japanese are in Acton:

    http://www.thejapaneseschool.ltd.uk/

  21. Trond Engen says:

    The Japanese dots are small, meaning they’re only a small percentage in an essentially all-British neighborhood. Same goes for Somali.

  22. J. W. Brewer says:

    Well, there you go. That must be the http://www.keio.edu/english/ of the London area.

  23. Trond Engen says:

    It’s an interesting map, but the way it’s representing the data may be a little misleading, since it doesn’t show the size of the total population for each underground stop. Dots like that should always represent a total, not a percentage. A percentage of the total should be represented by a sector of the dot. If they only want to show L2, then they could show only the second biggest slice of each dot. Or use transparency of the fill color.

  24. “Urdu (the L1 of <10% of the Pakistani population"

    Interesting, I was unaware of this. I had thought it the principal language. According to the CIA Factbook, it is 8% although it is the official language.

  25. Stefan Holm says:

    In entertainment shows we laugh at foreigners speaking distorted Swedish all the time. And we laugh as well at Swedes speaking foreign languages with a silly Swedish accent.

    But did Ms Shakeel for a second believe that she were to watch a true story about the eternal worldwide American wars? Didn’t she realize, that the US administration and ‘military-industrial complex’ (Eisenhower) face impassable problems in rationally explaining its foreign policy to the world – and the trillion dollar expenses to the Americans themselves?

    Hasn’t she ever noticed that this opened a market for the Dream Factory to earn money from a domestic audience hungry for an explanation of the logically inexplicable? Did she even in her most vivid imagination think that Homeland was made for a non-western audience – such as the commercially uninteresting Pakistani?

    O sancta simplicitas! Or in the words of Pete Seeger: ‘When will they ever learn’?

  26. But did Ms Shakeel for a second believe that she were to watch a true story about the eternal worldwide American wars? … Did she even in her most vivid imagination think that Homeland was made for a non-western audience – such as the commercially uninteresting Pakistani?

    Do you even for a second, in your most vivid imagination, believe any of that stuff you’re suggesting about her, or are you just using her as a convenient foil for your sarcasm? I agree with you about both the eternal worldwide American wars and the Dream Factory, and I’m pretty sure she does too. You should really save your ammunition for deserving targets.

  27. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks, Alex & JW for the Japanese explanation. Trondy, I don’t know why he didn’t represent the dots more logically. I think it says he’s a geographer from UCL. Richmond is the location of the German secondary school, so you’d think German might make a show there, as Japanese does in Acton, but instead he’s got Spanish, a language I’ve never heard spoken in Richmond. I still find it pretty convincing in general. (I’ll go away now, I don’t want to derail.)

  28. J. W. Brewer says:

    Re the hypothetical “show about New York CIty”: Hollywood does that all the time in terms of having movies set in quite major American cities get some key detail of that city wrong in a way that makes a scene inappropriately absurd or comical to anyone who lives in or has spent time in that city. Examples: (1) some well-known movie of the last generation (maybe When Harry Met Sally?) features the main characters traveling by car from Chicago to let’s say New York and then you see them driving along the lakefront in what anyone who knows Chicago will immediately know is exactly the wrong direction (i.e. the towards-Wisconsin direction rather than the towards-Indiana direction which is the necessary first step if you’re heading east w/o going via the Upper Peninsula); (2) the late ’80’s thriller No Way Out is set in Washington DC (where I was working at the time) and features a chase scene where the character being chased suddenly ducks into a subway (“Metro”) stop in a neighborhood that notoriously lacks a conveniently located stop and then when the character gets downstairs is suddenly on a platform that looks nothing like anything in the DC Metro system and jumps onto a train that looks nothing like the DC trains (I think they shot that scene in the subway in either Baltimore or Philadelphia, but the point is it’s not subtle – you don’t have to be a public-transit “trainspotter” to notice the inauthenticity, just someone who’s ridden on the Metro in DC and gotten accustomed to its distinctive visuals).

  29. Not sure that’s the entire explanation for why Acton. The spectacular 1930’s Tudor architecture of the <a href ="queens estate acton images" Queens Estate in Acton is or used to be famous for attracting Japanese tenants.

  30. The spanish and portuguese dots on the map are more likely to represent Latin American communities. For example, the portuguese speakers around Brixton are primarily Brazilian; amongst the spanish speakers around Islington/Holloway are a large number of Colombians.

    One group which doesn’t get a mention as there’s no tube stop nearby is Europe’s largest Korean community centred on New Malden in south-west London (known locally as Nu-Mal-Dong). A very large proportion on signage on New Malden High Street is in hangul and it’s where you’d go if you want proper Korean food rather than some fancy Korean restaurant in the West End.

    I wouldn’t have thought that Germans in London would need to cluster around the Deutsche Schule (for a start, it’s a very expensive place to live). There’s a huge population of Germans, Dutch, and Scandinavians in London but as they all generally speak fluent english they wouldn’t feel the same need to stick together for community support—they can live in whichever district they prefer or can afford.

  31. Stefan Holm says:

    I stand corrected, Hat – and my apologize to Ms Shakeel. Remembering a critiscism of the state of things I’ve heard for half a century I just felt dejected: what’s the meaning of opposition if nothing ever happens? To my mind comes:

    What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever

    One (or someone a century later) who certainly was familiar with the Ecclesiastes put it this way:

    And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

    Sure we will overcome. But it’s a long way ro Tipperary. And sometimes when I see people referring to soap operas as having anything to do with the real world I feel like giving it all up.

  32. I know what you mean. But even fantasy is based on what somebody thinks of as the real world, and we all long to see our reality represented, even when rationally we know the likelihood of its being done well is very low. Hey, they could have spent a few bucks (the price of a catered lunch?) and hired somebody to check the Urdu and accents, you never know! And you can’t help but be disappointed when, duh, of course they didn’t.

  33. @Jim: I’ve read that that’s a myth. According to the sources cited here, the incidence and mortality of cancer among people who worked on The Conqueror were almost identical to those among the general population.

    On a similar topic, though, there’s the story of Anna Mae Wong, who wanted the leading female role in The Good Earth, a 1937 movie about Chinese people. But the anti-miscegenation clause of the Hayes Code prohibited her casting, because Paul Muni would be playing her (Chinese) husband.

  34. It may just be that they didn’t think of it, which is not the same thing as making a rational decision not to do it.

  35. Annette Pickles says:

    This isn’t the first time Homeland has been called out for insulting indifference and ignorance in its portrayal of the Islamicate world:

    Homeland’s War on Beirut

  36. Good lord. Thanks for that; it sounds like straight-up bigotry rather than simple ignorance is involved. And this is an interesting bit of contrast:

    In an interview with Ben Affleck on his new film, Argo, the filmmaker reveals that the film maintains “a spirit of truth” in its depiction of Tehran. Affleck relies on archival images and videos to achieve realism as it is revealed in the closing credits of the film. While Affleck is incapable of filming in Tehran, he chooses to film in Turkey to present the most realistic portrayal of the city to his audience, including a mountainous backdrop that resembles the ubiquitous Alborz Mountains, which dominate the skyline of the Iranian capital.

    Just because you can’t film on location doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to approximate reality. If you care, of course.

  37. This works both ways: I’ve seen Indonesian and Chinese movies in which native English-speaking “actors” (probably expat spouses earning lunch money) are given lines – and deliver them! – in a surreally stilted English that doesn’t exist outside schoolroom lessons half-remembered by the scriptwriter. I’ve also seen a Bollywood movie partly set in New Zealand tourist country with New Zealand bit actors who delivered their lines in an accent that appeared to blend South African English with a large streak of England’s West Country, or perhaps even the Welsh accent; whatever it was (and it varied from line to line), it bore little resemblance to a New Zealand accent. Maybe the local actors were gleefully amusing themselves, or were trying to disguise their voices out of humiliation. Or maybe the director had decided that Indian audiences would have trouble understanding a New Zealand accent, so had told the local actors to sound “more comprehensible”.

  38. J. W. Brewer says:

    I think it’s a common observation that, for example, a) the New York City depicted in Woody Allen movies; b) the New York City depicted in Spike Lee movies; and c) the New York City depicted in Martin Scorsese movies do not resemble one another very closely, to the extent that if one hypothesized that one was “accurate” one might need to conclude that the others were not. But of course they are all to some extent fictional, and by highlighting some things and ignoring others distort reality. (Is New York a glamorous cosmopolitan place, or a dingy frightening place? Well, what would you like your movie to be about?) The problem, perhaps, is that one doesn’t have a multitude of different US-tv depictions of Islamabad or Beirut to sort of balance each other out, with the result that one gets aggrieved whining about the inaccuracies of a single depiction. But the thin-skinned PR people from the Beirut tourism board will be happy to know that the old-timey East Village punk rock dive bar Downtown Beirut was gentrified into oblivion a few years back, so they don’t have to complain about the inaccuracy of the image it projected.

  39. @Ian: Was it I Hate Luv Storys? It says that that movie was filmed in Queenstown, which is in the southern part of South Island, so maybe what you were hearing was the Scottish-influenced Southland accent.

  40. Lazar: no, it was Jaal. I don’t remember much else about the movie, except that the female and male leads lip-synched a song while dancing coyly round a tree, which it seems is mandatory for Bollywood. Also, the female lead was gorgeous and the apotheosis of goodness, and the male lead was petulant and podgy, and the audience was expected to believe that she could fall in love with him. Seems this too is mandatory.

    I’m a New Zealander, which is why I was so bemused and entertained by the “New Zealand accent” in the movie. The rhotic accent of older speakers in Southland (including a couple of my distant relatives) doesn’t differ perceptibly from other NZ accents except for the post-vocalic r. The NZ sequences of Jaal were indeed set mainly around Queenstown – but that’s such a global resort town now that NZ English is a minority language there, and I doubt that the Southland accent is heard at all.

  41. Argo used all persian-speaking extras from Los Angeles, too. They played fast and loose with the history, but they apparently tried to get that much right.

  42. J. W. Brewer says:

    I am told by an Iranian-American that any Farsi speaker who saw Argo could tell the extras were from LA because enough time has gone by that the younger LA diaspora speaks the language with a different accent than those the same age who grew up in Iran.

  43. I’ve seen a few Chinese movies about Soviet Russia. Mostly about Russian Civil War or Great Patriotic War.

    They are usually shot in the Ukraine and employ cheap Ukrainian actors. Quality of acting is quite bad, but nevertheless, they look much more authentic than anything produced by Hollywood.

  44. I think we discussed a few years ago, the Chinese TV series about Genghis Khan.

    It was shot entirely in steppes of Inner Mongolia, featured Inner Mongolian actors, script followed the Secret History of Mongols down to every detail, so it would get a Gold medal for authencity.

    Alas, bad costumes and unbelievable fighting scenes ruined its chances.

    Pity, it was very good otherwise.

  45. With regard to bad accents, the Russian ambassador in Dr. Strangelove (played by British actor Peter Bull) is my earliest memory of foreign-language dialogue that was so laughably inept and heavily accented that even I, who spoke no Russian at the time, could tell there was something very wrong.

    I speak passable Russian and the Russian dialog in Dr. Strangelove never bothered me the least bit… Maybe it’s because Dr. Strangelove was an obvious satire and never pretended to be a realistic movie.

    On an unrelated note. If the real problem with Homeland is that it’s bigoted and/or politically very skewed series, then Fatima Shakeel should just have said it. And didn’t hide behind language or scenery being wrong.

  46. She talks about its “shameless bigotry” in exactly those words; what exactly do you think she’s hiding?

  47. Christopher,
    “Jim, I don’t like joking about those cancer deaths as justice in the universe. ”

    I may have been a bit over the line. I don’t believe in justice in the universe, but for those who do, that would definitely be over the line.

  48. She talks about its “shameless bigotry” in exactly those words; what exactly do you think she’s hiding?

    She says that she was on the fence and now is forced to re-evaluate (presumably toward “bigotry” side of the fence), but based on what? The caricature depiction of Islamabad and inept Urdu and Pakistani accent. I find it unconvincing. Let’s compare with something more readily familiar. Say, a show about FBI agents fighting Mafia where nearly every Italian(-American) is eating pasta at every meal, speaks with Zeppo’s accent and constantly says o-la-la. No one in their right mind would watch it, but what would be the bigoted part?

  49. Precisely because those are stereotypes used to mock and demean Italian-Americans.

  50. Homeland is a US adaptation of the Israeli series Hatufim (‘Prisoners of War’) which featured extensive use of Arabic as well as Hebrew, spoken by protagonists from both sides. I’d be very interested to know more about the accents, the casting, and how the producers handled the linguistic issues in such a politically charged drama.

  51. Pakistan is a country where almost everyone speaks English.

    Are there generally accepted numbers for the percentage of Pakistanis who speak English? FWIW, Wikipedia says ~50% speak English, but they are all second language speakers, while the native speakers are too small in number to count.

    I would guess that English fluency is concentrated among the metropolitan upper and middle classes, so the places in Pakistan that the US is bombing would have few of them.

  52. Second language speaker doesn’t equal bad speaker or non-fluent speaker.

    I think comparison with Standard Modern Arabic in Arab countries is more fitting.

    In Morocco or Iraq, Arabic speakers grew up speaking in dialect and learn Standard Arabic in school and use it every time the situation requires more formal language.

    Similarly, in Pakistan native Bengali and Pashto speakers are taught English and Urdu in school and use these languages when they fit the situation.

    It should be stressed again that English is not a foreign language in Pakistan, it’s the national language and everyone who attended school is expected to speak it.

  53. I also should add that in Morocco, there are many Berber speakers, who learn Morroccan Arabic from their neighbours and are taught Standard Arabic and French in school.

    They are all expected to speak both Arabic and French after graduating school.

    It is not an exagerration at all to say that Morocco is French-speaking country and Pakistan is similarly an English-speaking one.

  54. Second language speaker doesn’t equal bad speaker or non-fluent speaker.

    I was not implying it did. I was contrasting your estimate of “almost everyone” with the Wiki’s figure of ~50%, which presumably includes a range of levels of competence.

    Similarly, in Pakistan native Bengali and Pashto speakers are taught English and Urdu in school and use these languages when they fit the situation. It should be stressed again that English is not a foreign language in Pakistan, it’s the national language and everyone who attended school is expected to speak it.

    Bengali?? The number of native Bengali speakers in Pakistan is negligible.

    Urdu is the national language, actually; Urdu and English are official languages.

    As of 2008, everyone who attends school is taught English. But obviously this government regulation doesn’t affect adults or children who do not attend school, and I would guess that it doesn’t necessarily leave a child fluent in English. So there is a long ways to go before your observation that “almost everyone” speaks English is justified, as far as I see.

  55. “I would guess that English fluency is concentrated among the metropolitan upper and middle classes”

    My limited experience there would support that. I have been there a couple of times. One time, I visited friends in a smallish town (Attock) and encountered very little English. In Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar, I don’t recall having any difficulty.

  56. Sorry, I don’t know why I wrote that. Of course, I meant Punjabi which is the largest language in Pakistan


  57. I think the old, 1950s Hollywood movie about Genghis Khan stands out.
    The entire cast lacked not only Mongolian actors (which is understandbale and excusable), but even Asian ones.
    Genghis Khan was played by Omar Shariff!
    And his wife was blonde…

    Distressingly, this film – “Genghis Khan” (1965) is not even the worst Hollywood film about Genghis Khan. That would be “The Conqueror” (1956) which starred John Wayne as Genghis and the red-haired Susan Hayward as Mrs Genghis. It included the deathless line “Yer beautiful in yer wrath”, and led to the deaths from radiation-induced cancer of half the cast and crew due to its being inadvertently filmed on a nuclear test site in Utah. Surely the survivors would have envied the dead.

  58. Hollywood’s and TVs handling of almost any non-English and non-Western European languages is abysmal. Most “Russians” featured in these films either speak abysmal caricature of Russian or speak pretty clear Russian words but completely nonsensical or awfully stilted. TV series are especially bad, some new Hollywood flicks at least are getting into the novel idea of finding a native speaker. The other things – like writings – are even worse. Just recently, I’ve seen an episode of The Blacklist featuring the “Ukrainian Passport” in which the Cyrillic letter П (P) was replaced by latin N. Twice, in both “p”s in “passport”. Usually N is confused with И (I) but the makers of this movie found this to be too mainstream. I’m not even complaining they didn’t find how the real Ukrainian passport looks like (which is one google query away) – but they didn’t even have anybody on stuff to make the writing look right. So I am not surprised other languages get the same treatment.

  59. You should check out the FX show The Americans — not only is it a great dramatic series, they handle the Russian quite well. There are a few native speakers, but even the ones with obvious foreign accents don’t sound terrible.

  60. Manwithhat says:

    I don’t speak Hindi, Urdu, Pashtun, Hebrew, Arabic or any other Middle Eastern / Asian language, though my dad is from Pakistan, and my mum’s dad was Jewish. I love the series Homeland, but I did notice that they kept the non-English dialogue to a minimum. Is it really possible that every single Asian actor on the show doesn’t speak Urdu etc. and who could have advised the writers on how this or that is said? On the other hand, its not as bad as 24 and The West Wing which both used fictitious countries, like Kumeristan lol…where? they might as well have used Armando Ianucci’s (The Thick of It, In the Loop, Veep) ‘I don’t-give-a-$%£-istan’). Homeland at least has stories that involve real countries and real issues such as the corruption, collusion, and terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

  61. I can’t speak to 24, but I doubt if any actual countries would want to be portrayed as Qumar and Equatorial Kundu are shown on The West Wing. There would also be questions asked about whether the show was a roman a clef that could be deflected by fictionalizing them. Similarly, TWW’s presidential elections are in 1998, 2002, and 2006, unlike actual U.S. presidential elections.

  62. I enjoyed the West Wing when I finally got around to watching it a couple years ago, but there were a few irksome issues relating to foreign countries. Some that come to mind: they refer to an offscreen Icelandic ambassador, “Vigdis Ólafsdóttir”, as male, even though that name is doubly marked as female; they mention an event that took place in “the Oblast region” of Russia (which I believe borders the Province province of China); and in one episode Ian McShane plays a Russian diplomat with the surname “Ivanovich” – we could charitably imagine that he’s of Serbo-Croatian descent, but I think it’s more likely that they were aiming for “generic Russian name” and missed.

    (There’s also that time that Bartlet acts as if he’s never heard of Equatorial Kundu, even though an earlier episode featured a crisis in that country that appeared to have a strong emotional effect on him.)

  63. Was Nicolai Ivanovich a name-surname combination or a name-patronymic combination? Americans not quite versed in the subtleties of Russian names could have confused them (and I don’t mean an obvious explanation that it was show’s writers who got confused, but more interesting explanation that they have the confusion of the protagonists written into the script).

  64. I just checked on Netflix: there are two diplomat characters, and they introduce themselves as Vladimir Ivanovich and George Kozlovsky. (Why the second guy is named George and Georgi or Yuri is another question.)

  65. No, the first one is definitely Nikolai Ivanovich (and, given that Russians are not supposed to get confused about they own language, its definitely patronymic), which is a bit like naming someone John Smith. George Kozlovsky seems like a good name for a demi-monde character. Then they have Russian president Chigorin (the first world-class Russian chess player) and in another episode Georgian president Rustaveli (the national poet). The latter one sent America (through an ambassador, who starts the conversation by offering wine from his personal vineyard) a “gift of enriched uranium”. Someone had a real fun writing all of this.

  66. Whoops, typing Vladimir instead of Nikolai was a lapse on my part.

  67. Wake up and smell the coffee. You really thought you could rely on Hollywood TV shows to get an accurate linguistic and cultural representation? I am from Italy, and I am 100% sure that your idea of how Italians speak is wrong. Becuase most likely you got that from dozens of American movies, in which all Italias speak with a thick southern accent (and eat pizza and play mandolin).

    Fiction is always inaccurate. It’s just that you don’t realize that until it’s your culture being misrepresented.

  68. I am from Italy, and I am 100% sure that your idea of how Italians speak is wrong.

    Well, you’re 100% wrong, because I got my idea of how Italians speak from Italian movies, not to mention the occasional Italian in person. But thanks for your uncharitable assumption.

  69. You really got the point, didn’t you?

  70. You really don’t know how to apologize, do you?

  71. Apoligize for what? If you’re interested in a discussion on the original topic, I’m in. If you’re nit-picking, well enjoy yout blog. Oh, and enjoy also the highly realistic depiction of Russians in The Americans, of course.

  72. Apoligize for what?

    For your insulting comment.

    If you’re interested in a discussion on the original topic, I’m in. If you’re nit-picking, well enjoy yout blog.

    You’re clearly not interested in actual discussion, just in accusing Americans of being ignorant fools. (Kind of ironic, n’est-ce pas?) And I do enjoy my blog, thank you.

    Oh, and enjoy also the highly realistic depiction of Russians in The Americans, of course.

    Oh, are you an expert on Russians as well as Italians?

  73. I was neither insulting nor accusing American “people”, just calling out *your* naiveness. Refusing to watch Homeland because of that article, while still watching so much other inaccurate content makes no sense to me.

    I do watch and enjoy Hollywood TV shows (including Homeland) and movies for what they are, i.e. fiction, and when I spot inaccuracies I just smile. I am well aware that for every inaccurancy I spot about Italy or whatever there are dozens that I miss about other subjects I am not familiar with. That’s no big deal to me, as I can discern fiction from fact.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Hat notes that the TV show Homeland has terrible Urdu, and Pakistani English, […]

Speak Your Mind

*