TV as a lens into race and gender issues, with Dr. Laurena Bernabo

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For many, watching television is a part of daily life, and those clips that show up on screens can begin to leave a lasting impression. Television shows’ portrayals of different people and groups, even in subtle ways, can influence the way individuals and cultures are perceived. 

Understanding this, Dr. Laurena Bernabo, an assistant professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies, uses television as a lens to look into issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality. She studies how these issues are being communicated to the public and used as entertainment to make sense of changing social relations. She also studies public responses to these portrayals. 

In this episode, Dr. Bernabo dives into some of her research, including a past project, for which she spent time in Mexico City observing how those working on the Spanish language broadcast of “Glee” dubbed over the voices, and her more recent work, which focuses on public response to depictions of single fathers on television. 

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Diverse identities are often lost in translation when movies and television are dubbed for other languages

When movies and television are translated to other languages, LBGT and BIPOC individual characteristics are often lost or reduced, according to research by Laurena Bernabo, assistant professor in entertainment and media studies.

Many characteristics are lost when television programs are translated, according to Bernabo’s research. (Photo: Laurena Bernabo)

To best understand the processes behind dubbing an American television show to other languages, Bernabo made multiple visits to New Art Dub in Mexico. It is the company that dubs many Fox shows. She also interviewed Fox executives in Los Angeles and Brazil. Bernabo focused on the show “Glee,” which is known for featuring characters that identify as LBGT and/or BIPOC, and their community storylines.

“Translation tends to lose a lot of the ways identity is communicated aurally, both through the vocabulary people use to talk about themselves and the tones and speech patterns associated with different groups,” Bernabo said.

In most cases, Bernabo found that executives and dubbing professionals did not have malicious intent when stymieing character traits. Rather, little attention was paid to the talent that executed the dubs and how they performed.

For example, Bernabo found when dubbing studios don’t employ Black voice actors to dub Black characters, those dubbed characters tend to sound like their white counterparts, even when the original actor’s voice is discernably different from white actors’ voices.

Laurena Bernabo

“There are also lots of references to one’s identity, be they Black or gay, that might get lost in translation because they’re deemed offensive, or they utilize references that the dubbed version’s audience won’t understand,” Bernabo said.

In the case of “Glee,” some of the character traits altered in translation included voice tone, pitch, inflection and connection to cultural references.

Bernabo recommends television executives and dubbing companies cultivate and employ voice actors of the same ethnicity to that of the character their voice portrays. Also, when cultural or local references are made in a script that pertain to race, gender or sexuality, Bernabo suggests the voice actor be educated and aware for how that dialogue in a script represents specific culture in the show.

The danger in intentionally or unintentionally scrubbing diverse personality characteristics from television figures is that real people may be less inclined to celebrate individualism.

“A multicultural approach to society tends to celebrate difference and the ways a culture is enriched by virtue of a heterogeneous population,” Bernabo says. “But when characters are dubbed and, due to numerous intersecting factors, made to sound like a more homogenous group, the ways in which characters differ from each other become muted.”

More attentive dubbing can prevent stereotypes from being exacerbated, but also can use character personality to challenge local stereotypes in a particular region.

You can read Bernabo’s published research in its entirety:

Bernabo recognized with Outstanding Published Article Award at 2020 OSCLG conference

Laurena Bernabo, an assistant professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies, won the Outstanding Published Article Award by the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender at its annual conference in October.

Her article, “Expanding Television’s Cultural Forum in the Digital Era: Prime Time Television, Twitter, and Black Lives Matter,” highlighted the communicative practices for current events and how entertainment programs critique larger social movements, such as Black Lives Matter. The paper outlines a study of the Twitter conversation involving three television dramas—“Law & Order: SVU”, “The Good Wife,” and “Scandal”as they covered themes relating to the Black Lives Movement. Bernabo analyzed more than 1,900 Tweets and concluded that the Twitter discussion goes beyond traditional entertainment conversation and facilitates a commentary that brings issues to light and creates a space for people to reflect on their beliefs and positions.

 “Television remains a central mode of entertainment and world-shaping for Americans,” Bernabo said.  “Viewers’ reception of and interactions with television are important avenues for understanding the power of television in a democracy.”

“When entertainment media more honestly tells the stories of those whose voices often go unheard, it can help to change the conversation around what is happening in this country and whose version of reality is taken at face value.”

Bernabo’s article was published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media in January 2019, prior to the social unrest America experienced this past summer. Bernabo said that if she conducted the study today, she expects that Twitter would still provide an important platform for viewers to express their views of representations, much like people used do to around the office watercooler, but that scripted programming might change how they handle the representation of BLM and the systemic murders of Black Americans.

“One of the many things 2020 has illustrated is that people continue to feel the crushing weight of systemic inequalities, be they BIPOC, LGBTQ, and/or women,” Bernabo explained. “Entertainment media can play a role in addressing flaws in the American experiment, including through critical self-reflection, recognizing the ways media makers have been complicit in perpetuating a highly problematic status quo.”

Bernabo has participated in the OSCLG conference since 2013. She was awarded the  Outstanding Dissertation Award at the conference in 2018 while she was a student at the University of Iowa. This past summer, she was elected to the board.

Bernabo said she appreciates the sense of community that OSCLG provides. “I have been honored and humbled to win these awards and be voted to the board. Being a part of this community has often given me the strength and energy to confront the hurdles associated with being a scholar.”

OSCLG brings together students, scholars, activists, artists and practitioners interested in the discussion of gender, language and principles behind feminism. Since its start in 1978, it has sought to provide a forum for professional discussion, presentation of research and demonstration of creative projects in the areas of communication, language and gender, as well as promote recognition of those doing work in this area. The theme for the 43rd annual conference was “Navigating Privilege.”

Entertainment and Media Studies welcomes three new faculty

The Department of Entertainment and Media Studies and Grady College are pleased to welcome three new faculty members in the 2020-2021 academic year.

The new faculty members include:

  • Laurena Bernabo who assumes the role of assistant professor, EMST.
  • Neil Landau who will serve as associate professor and director of the screenwriting program for the new Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media.
  • Wunpini Mohammed who begins as assistant professor, EMST.

“Our new faculty invigorate us, and have been busily preparing for the semester ahead,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “They have embraced the spirit of the college already, and we’re all so happy for the infusion of vitality they bring.”

Laurena Bernabo

Laurena Bernabo joins the college faculty after serving as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Iowa and, more recently, Christopher Newport University. Her research specializes in the Spanish-language translation of popular U.S. television programs for Hispanic audiences, focusing on translation as texts that emphasize the construction of gender, race, sexuality and other forms of identity. Bernabo also studies the construction of these identities in U.S. programs, and she has presented her work at national and international conferences. Her research is published in peer-reviewed journals such as “Critical Studies in Media Communication” and “Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.”

Bernabo earned her doctorate and master’s degrees in Communications Studies from the University of Iowa, and a Bachelor of Arts in gender and women’s studies from the University of Illinois.

At Grady College, Bernabo will teach sections of Entertainment Media Industries, and Representation and Identity in Entertainment Media in her first semester.

More details can be found on Bernabo’s faculty profile webpage.

Neil Landau

Neil Landau joins the college as an associate professor and director of screenwriting in the new MFA program. Landau previously taught at the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television where he served as assistant dean and co-director of the graduate screenwriting program.

Landau is an award-winning screenwriter, including the prestigious Spanish Academy “Goya” Award for best adapted screenplay for “The Adventures of Tadeo Jones.”

He has written for many of the leading television and film companies such as ABC Family, MTV, Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox, just to name a few. His movie credits include the cult movie “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” and  television shows “Doogie Howser, MD” and “Melrose Place.” He is currently working as the executive producer for a mini-series entitled “Patient Zero,” the first program to explore the untold story of the AIDS crisis in the USSR in the 1980s and early 1990s. Landau is author of five books, including the bestselling “101 Things I Learned in Film School” (Grand Central Publishing, 2010, reissue by Random House/Crown in early 2021); and “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap” (Focal Press, 2014; second edition to be published in 2021).

Landau earned an MFA in Narrative Media Writing, Screenwriting, from Grady College in 2018 and he has a Bachelor of Arts in film and television from UCLA.

More details can be found on Landau’s faculty profile webpage.

Wunpini Mohammed

Wunpini Mohammed joins UGA to teach courses in global media industries, a study of how media companies make and distribute content throughout the world.

Mohammed’s research focuses on Global South media industries, feminism, broadcast media and development communication and the challenge of power politics in media production, distribution and reception. Mohammed has presented her work at national and international conferences, and her research is published in peer reviewed journals such as “Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media,” “Communication: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research” and “Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology.” She has a co-authored article forthcoming in the “Journal of Radio and Audio Media.”

Prior to pursuing a doctorate degree, Mohammed worked as a radio journalist for five years. She later worked in digital media writing where her work has been published on various African and international media platforms such as Al Jazeera and Global Voices

Mohammed earned her doctorate in mass communications from Pennsylvania State University. She also has a Master of Science in rhetoric and technical communication from Michigan Technological University; a Bachelor of Science in English and Spanish from the University of Ghana; and a diploma in Spanish grammar and literature from La Universidad de Cienfuegos “Carlos Rafael Rodriguez” in Cuba.

At Grady College, Mohammed will teach sections of Entertainment Media Analysis and International Media Entertainment.

More details can be found on Mohammed’s faculty profile webpage.