On the cutting room floor: Arab subtitles omit 'Jew' from summer blockbuster Oppenheimer

Lebanese subtitle company acknowledges a practice of pre-emptive self-censorship by their translators, a measure taken to secure the film's approval for screening in specific Arab nations
In the Arab world, much like it is in many other parts of the globe, millions are flocking to cinemas to watch "Oppenheimer," directed by Christopher Nolan, which portrays the life of physicist Robert Oppenheimer. But the film's Arabic subtitles omit Oppenheimer's Jewish identity. Instead, the term "Guraba" (foreigner) replaces "Jew." Sometimes, the word "Jew" is entirely omitted. Normally, the Arabic translation for "Jews" is "يَهُودِي" ("Ya-hudi").
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Many viewers, including Egyptian director Yusri Nasrallah, criticized the puzzling translation. Not known to be particularly pro-Israeli, Nasrallah expressed his dissatisfaction, saying, "The Arabic translation of the dialogues is extremely poor. There is no valid reason to translate 'Jew' as 'Jarib' or 'Jorbaa' (foreigner or foreigners). This is truly disappointing." The National website compared the omission to an earlier translation of the name of a playwright - Israel Horowitz who was translated as "Occupied Territories Horowitz.
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מתוך הסרט "אופנהיימר"
מתוך הסרט "אופנהיימר"
Just don't mention he's Jewish
(Photo: Screenshot)
The Lebanese subtitle company acknowledged a practice of pre-emptive self-censorship by their translators, a measure taken to secure the film's approval for screening in specific Arab nations. While not explicitly mentioning the replacement of "Jew" with "foreigner," the company indicated that for the past 15-20 years, they've followed this approach. "Certain issues," they explained to local media, "if left untouched, would result in requests for removal or alteration. Therefore, we automatically modify them to avoid the need to re-edit the film."
The company states that their translators consistently follow guidelines set by censorship boards across many Arab nations. "There are subjects we typically avoid addressing, this being one of them. Directly translating 'Jew' into Arabic could lead to film editing or removal upon screening," they explained. To ensure uninterrupted viewing and prevent excessive cuts, they opt for subtle translation adjustments. The company also said this approach extends to other words related to religiously sensitive matters on screen, including Israel, Jesus, or the Prophet Muhammad.
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מתוך "אופנהיימר"
מתוך "אופנהיימר"
Film was well-received in Saudi Arabia
(Photo: Tulip Entertainment)
Throughout the movie, translators seem to go out of their way not to mention the word "Jew" or "Jewish", including scenes where Oppenheimer speaks of his Jewish heritage or discusses how Jews seem to feel unwelcome amid rising tides of anti-semitism in 1930s Germany.
On the bright side, none of that seems to have dampened the success of the movie in the Arab world, with numbers showing that it has been well-received, grossing around $3.9 million in Saudi Arabia (signs of impending normalization?) and $2.8 million in the United Arab Emirates.
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