Why HBO's Upcoming Spanish-Language Series is Important

The eight-part adaptation of Fernando Aramburu's 'Patria' will depict a personal story set during the Basque conflict.

Patria
Tusquets

How much do you know about the Basque conflict? Presumably not much, because our primary reader demographic is US-based. But for Spain, the Basque conflict was a big deal because, well, it was a violent conflict that killed a lot of innocent people. It went on for 50 years, having started in 1959 and only ended as of 2011. The separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, “Basque Homeland and Liberty”) basically ran the whole thing, and while the conflict officially ended in 2011, thanks to peace talks, the group didn’t even completely disarm until just last year.

ETA was officially declared to have disbanded earlier this year, so it is perhaps fitting that, according to The Hollywood Reporter, HBO Europe has given the go-ahead to Spanish writer/producer Aitor Gabilondo to adapt and produce an eight-part series based on the 2016 novel Patria by Fernando Aramburu. Pablo Trapero and Felix Viscarret are set to direct. The story of the novel follows a pair of families, once friends, torn apart by the ETA occupation of their home village. The series is set to release in 2020 on HBO Europe and HBO Latin America and will be available in the US on HBO Go.

So why should you be concerned about this? Two reasons, really. The first, which may seem counterintuitive, is because it’s a story about non-US peoples. The second is that this is a Spanish-language original production.

Whether you like it or not, our world is gradually becoming more and more globalized. Certain, ahem, presidents may talk a big talk about buying American, but the truth is that if you want to stay completely isolationist you’re probably going to have to start making your own clothes (using thread you manufacture yourself) and stop using the internet (any device that can access it probably uses parts made overseas). It’s important, then, to know about your fellow people on this planet, what they’re going through, and what they’ve gone through before. The Basque conflict has been referred to as “Europe’s longest war,” but I barely knew anything about it before I went to Spain in college. And even then I had to do a bunch of research to fact-check for this article.

Language plays into this also. Too often we downplay the significance of the language barrier when engaging with different cultures, but in truth, language isn’t just the words you use. It structures the very way you think about and engage with different ideas. In this regard, the most important part of the incoming Patria series is, indeed, the fact that it’s in Spanish. It’s a story that acknowledges the struggles of people who don’t speak English, and acknowledges them in a way that gives those struggles exposure by making them the centerpiece, instead of pushing their language and culture to the side or making it the sideshow to an American or Brit’s adventure.

The dominance of the English language in big movie and TV production is something that’s always bothered me. It sets up a sort of cultural hierarchy where the stuff made here in the US shapes the culture of the world. All my Chinese cousins watch Marvel movies and know all about Donald Trump, but lots of them couldn’t tell you what’s happening right outside the city they live in (I know because I asked). So if you’re really trying to make media diverse in the 21st century, big studios, start with the language.

Oh, and, obviously, watch Patria when it comes out. You have HBO Go for Game of Thrones anyway, it’d be a waste to not watch something else with that subscription, right?

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