Pro-dubbing Senator Sparks Debate in Mexico Over Foreign-Language Film Proposal

In a debate that has divided Mexico’s film industry, pitting actors against the national motion picture academy, a new initiative spearheaded by Senator Martí Batres Guadarrama seeks to increase the use of dubbing in Mexican movie theaters.

Senator Batres presented his dubbing initiative during a congressional session on January 27, 2020. During his recorded speech, Batres outlined his goal of giving Mexican moviegoers a greater choice of viewing language, including those indigenous to Mexico.

Although largely a Spanish-speaking country, Mexico is home to 68 national languages — all but five of which are indigenous. In Batres’ opinion, improving dubbing provisions would also help promote Mexico’s national culture and give dubbing professionals greater support.

Championing the pro-dubbing group, Batres proposes that all non-Spanish film and TV content distributed in Mexico be dubbed not only in Spanish but also in at least one indigenous language from the region. Spanish-language originals would also have to be dubbed in at least one indigenous language

Batres’ proposal could potentially impact a number of existing laws, but at the center of the debate is Mexico’s Federal Law on Cinematography. Batres wants the law to be updated to require that non-Spanish films showing in movie theaters in Mexico also have a Spanish-dubbed version and an indigenous-language-dubbed version on offer.

Moreover, the Spanish-dubbed version would have to be equally available in theaters — on the same number of screens, in the same theaters, and for the same length of time. The indigenous-language-dubbed version would also have to be screened in the same cinema, once a day for every screen on which the original version is showing.

Batres also seeks to regulate working conditions for voice talent, standardize wages, promote fair pay, and improve dubbing training.

A potential boon to media localizers and Mexico’s dubbing market, Batres’ initiative is backed by the Mexican actors guild, the so-called Asociación Nacional de Actores (ANDA). If accepted, the proposal would see new dubbing requirements written into law.

Batres’ speech before congress came just six months after another interested party, the national motion picture academy, known as Academia Mexicana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas, or AMACC, posted a statement on Twitter decrying the use of dubbing in Mexican theaters.

On July 11, 2019, a tweet by the AMACC reiterated their belief that the public has a right to consume content in its original and intended form. Making any changes to the script and the characters’ voices (which would include dubbing), deprives audiences of this right, they said.

The AMACC also argued that approving the use of dubbing places private interest and financial gain above public interest. For these reasons, the AMACC is opposed to changing the existing wording of Mexico’s Federal Law on Cinematography relating to the use (or non-use) of dubbing in movies.

In its current form, the law does not specifically require non-Spanish films to be subtitled or dubbed, but instead states that non-Spanish films be shown in their original language and subtitled in Spanish “where appropriate,” and that children’s films and educational documentaries may be dubbed in Spanish.