Bad Bunny opened the 65th Annual Grammys and lit up the stage but the lack of closed captioning for his performance highlighted a bigger issue. There was a fair share of drama like Beyoncé and Bad Bunny being snubbed for Album of the Year, though he did take home the Grammy for Música Urbana Album for Un Verano Sin Ti. But since the ceremony’s broadcast on Sunday night, our community has been talking about what happened during the Puerto Rican singer’s performance of “El Apagón” and “Después de la Playa.” As soon as he began singing, the live closed captioning only read “[SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH]” and “[SINGING IN NON-ENGLISH]” instead of showing the original Spanish lyrics. Later, during his bilingual acceptance speech, the captions again read “[SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH].” Fans took to social media calling the lack of Spanish closed captions racist, insensitive, and ignorant. In response to the backlash, CBS, the network that broadcasts the Grammys, added Spanish captioning to reruns of the show on cable and Paramount+ by Monday morning, according to Variety. Though the correction rights the initial wrong, the fact that it happened in the first place shows the lack of preparedness and inclusivity.
Since the inclusion of other languages besides English on TV, this has been the norm for many decades. Even for scripted shows, it’s not unusual for “foreign” languages to go untranslated, especially if the main character only speaks English. The same goes for live broadcasting, where including “speaking non-English” in the place of translation or transcription is a standard and widespread practice for captioners anytime a language that is not English is spoken. But what does that mean for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers who are often left behind when it comes to accommodations in entertainment? It’s become clear that this policy, while the norm (for now), is also ableist, racist, xenophobic, and Western-centric, thanks to the caption’s phrasing that doesn’t bother to even name the language, but just positions it in relation to English.
It’s also important to note that Bad Bunny is a global superstar and made history when he the album became the first Spanish-language album to earn an Album of the Year nomination. Considering his nomination was unprecedented and he opened the show, there should have been an effort to include Spanish closed captions. The performance and his win were major moments not just for Bad Bunny, but for Puerto Ricans, Caribbeans, and the Latinx community at large so to not have closed captions left many feeling othered and ignored. Since the backlash, CBS has updated the Spanish closed captioning on cable reruns, as well as the West Coast Sunday rebroadcast. The ceremony is also available to stream on-demand on Paramount+. Hopefully this sparks a change to provide accurate captioning for other languages across TV and films moving forward.