Chinese Subtitles and Xenophobia: What Are We Really Angry About?

Are Filipinos being racist when they got angry at the screening of Avengers Endgame with Chinese subtitles?

This week, a number of city cinemas made headlines because of plans to screen of Avengers: Endgame with Chinese subtitles. Social media quickly flared up with vitriol criticizing the move. Some complained about the visual integrity of the film, which is understandable. Subtitles, after all, can be a distraction for people not handicapped by language barriers. Others questioned the necessity of the move – “Why not put Filipino subtitles first before Chinese subtitles?” or “Wow, they’re really prioritizing the Chinese!”

Megaworld Lifestyle Malls was heavily criticized for screening Endgame with Chinese subtitles, and some Internet users were keen to point out the same accommodation had not been given to Koreans in the past. “Koreans have been here longer, why didn’t they bother putting Korean subtitles?”

While some of the comments about Chinese subtitles in Avengers: Endgame screenings may be valid, the negative reactions may be symptomatic of a deep-seated problem among many Filipinos: racial intolerance. And this is not a recent thing. Historically, Filipinos and Spaniards in the 16th century treated Manila’s Chinese as lower class outsiders.

A 2013 study by the World Values Survey showed the Philippines is among the least racially tolerant countries in the world. According to the study, Filipinos are more skeptical than optimistic about racial diversity and inclusiveness.

Nationalism, Patriotism, or Racism?

Nationalism is the sense of national consciousness, exalting one’s nation (the people) above all others. Patriotism is the love or devotion to one’s country. Racism is prejudice or discrimination towards other races.


While there is a clear indication of racism among many Filipinos toward the Chinese, we cannot entirely label the negative reactions about Chinese subtitles in the screenings of Endgame as mere racism. It may also be because there are links to national issues that exacerbate our xenophobia.

The problem may lie with Filipinos not wanting to accommodate the spreading influence of the Chinese in our own territory. We may have had good reason to welcome the Koreans in the past (and the entry into our culture of K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean food), but we now also have good reason to not lay out the welcome mat for the Chinese: the West Philippine Sea disputes, the harassment of Filipino fishermen on Scarborough, and the alleged presence of Chinese manual laborers in the country—jobs Filipinos are clearly competent at and hired for in many places abroad.

These issues about national sovereignty have ignited our sense of nationalism and patriotism, which in turn, may have fueled Filipinos’ increasing animosity racist rants about Chinese nationals in the Philippines. The truth is, subtitles are a normal thing. We tolerate them everywhere: in K-pop videos, in K-dramas, in bootleg copies of movies we buy from China. But in recent days, they have become a whipping boy for Filipinos to vent their anger and frustration upon, which is a completely separate issue of Chinese expansionism in the West Philippine Sea.

Unpopular Conclusion

To put things into perspective, there are more than 380 cinemas in Metro Manila, and hundreds more around the country. Cinemas that will screen Endgame with Chinese subtitles are fewer than 10, and only at select locations such as in Lucky Chinatown Mall, where there are concentrated numbers of Chinese Filipinos, many of whom were born and raised there, as well as immigrants.

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Filipinos should rise above themselves and accept the reality that Chinese subtitles in these cinemas—a gesture of accommodation to paying customers—are okay. Malls are business entities, after all.

Accommodating legal immigrants, no matter what their nationality, is the least form of decency we can offer, especially from a country with a tenth of its population living abroad as foreigners.

If we are angry about certain issues regarding sovereignty and China’s expansionism, we should focus our indignation via the proper channels, not toward immigrants or those who choose to accommodate them. Filipinos are always the first and loudest to cry foul whenever one of our own is discriminated against or not accommodated abroad because of our language, skin color, or heritage. At the end of the day, we are all part of a global community.

The Unpopular Opinion is Esquire’s space to provide additional insight and introduce new perspectives to issues that we may think have foregone conclusions. These articles don't always reflect our editorial stance, but we publish them here to continue the discourse.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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