Helping foreign workers feel included in Singapore: Art collective and university students add Bengali subtitles to English movie

An arts collective and some NTU students decided to solve the issue of foreign workers being unable to understand an English movie by translating it to Bengali and hosting the workers for a movie screening (Photo: Sama Sama / Facebook)
An arts collective and some NTU students decided to solve the issue of foreign workers being unable to understand an English movie by translating it to Bengali and hosting the workers for a movie screening (Photo: Sama Sama / Facebook)

Some foreign workers in Singapore were given a glimpse of what it would be like to be included in an English-centric country, when an arts collective and students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) decided to translate an English movie to Bengali.

The movie screening of The Pursuit of Happyness, translated to Bengali, was held in late February by the collective and the NTU students and is part of a movement called Sama Sama (meaning “the same” in Malay) to promote inclusion and shared experiences between local and migrant communities in Singapore.

The Sama Sama movement has traveled to universities such as Singapore Management University and NTU, and launched a series of events this weekend at National University of Singapore (NUS), showcasing ideas from migrant workers, university students, and migrant worker organizations.

The idea of having the screening came about when the collective’s lead Kari Tamura Chua decided to reach out to school administrations in the various universities, spokesperson Eleanor Goh told Coconuts Singapore.

The first iteration of the Sama Sama movement debuted three years ago as an exhibition to highlight the stories of migrant workers in Singapore and reframe them as capable and creative individuals, unlike the stereotype that they are just laborers.

“The whole point is for the audience to draw parallels between themselves and the migrant workers,” said Eleanor.

When Kari contacted the school administrations, the various universities redirected them to student leaders who come from various backgrounds; the NTU students come from majors such as public policy and law.

In a video uploaded by Sama Sama, a worker who attended the screening said that he could only understand about 70 percent of the English subtitles but the addition of Bengali subtitles by the students and the art collective helped him enjoy the movie better.

The workers who were invited to the screening are also learning English and computing skills at ed-tech social enterprise SDI Academy.

“Many of us get to watch movies of our choice anytime we want to, and we may take that for granted,” said Kari. “Just having a lack of subtitles may mean that others can’t enjoy a movie the same way that we do.”

Sama Sama will launch an exhibition on March 24 at the UTown campus in NUS, which will include tech and art concepts constructed by a team of graphic artists and programmers.

An artist called Mimi from Magicten Art Studio will use resin to construct the exhibition’s walls and floors from scratch using the liquid-like material that sets into solid after molding it.

More information can be found on the Sama Sama website.


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