U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia has penned an open letter to CBS Entertainment president and CEO George Cheeks calling out the network’s failure to provide closed captioning during Bad Bunny’s appearances onstage at the Grammys on Sunday.
The Puerto Rican rapper and singer performed at the opening of the show and later won the award for the Música Urbana album. Both his Spanish-language lyrics and acceptance speech appeared on the screen as “[SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH]” and “[SINGING NON-ENGLISH].”
Garcia, a Peruvian immigrant and a Democrat representing California’s 42nd congressional district, acknowledges in the letter that CBS has since added captions to replays of the Grammys. Still, the congressman maintains that Cheeks must “take serious measures to address the failures which made this mistake possible.”
In an email to Variety, Garcia added that “Bad Bunny’s opening performance at the 2023 Grammy’s was supposed to highlight a point of historic inclusivity in our country. Instead, CBS’s failure to properly close caption both his performance and his acceptance speech called attention to an incredibly disappointing failure on part of a network that caters to the millions of Spanish speakers that we have here in the U.S. If Bad Bunny, the first-ever Spanish-language Album of the Year nominee, can’t have his words made accessible to the American people, we have an issue.”
See Garcia’s full letter to Cheeks, exclusively obtained by Variety, below. (Cheeks has since written a letter back to Garcia.)
Dear Mr. Cheeks,
As a proud Latino immigrant and a Member of Congress, I write to echo the concerns, voiced by many within my community, regarding the failure of your network to appropriately caption the live coverage of the 2023 Grammy Awards.
As you are aware, although the artist Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, known professionally as Bad Bunny, was scheduled to perform, producers failed to anticipate the need for Spanish language closed captioning for his live performances.
Millions of Spanish-speaking Americans watched the Grammy’s open with Bad Bunny’s performance on the East Coast, seeing closed captioning as “[SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH]” and “[SINGING IN NON-ENGLISH].“
Furthermore, as Bad Bunny gave his acceptance speech in Spanish for best Música Urbana album, the captions again read “[SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH].”
This is deeply regrettable, and displays a lack of sensitivity and foresight. For too many Spanish-speaking Americans, it felt disrespectful of our place in our shared society, and of our contributions to our shared culture. For the hearing impaired community, this failure was hurtful.
At the same time, this distracts from the remarkable achievement by Bad Bunny, the first-ever Spanish-language Album of the Year nominee, whose record topped the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks of the year.
Over 13 percent of the United States population speaks Spanish at home, and the U.S. is home to the second-largest population of Spanish speakers in the world. At current trends, by 2050, one in three people in the U.S. will speak Spanish.
I am gratified by your efforts to address concerns, including adding closed captioning to replays of the performance, but I urge you to take serious measures to address the failures which made this mistake possible.
I am mindful of a 2021 study by non-partisan researchers at the Government Accountability Office, which found that Hispanics and Latinos make up approximately 12 percent of the American media workforce, compared to 18 percent of the non-media workforce. Within media, service jobs have the highest share of Hispanic and Latino workers (22%) and management roles have the lowest (4%).
I believe that proper representation for historically underserved communities in senior roles is critical both for my community, and for your efforts to serve the American people. I welcome the opportunity to engage further with you on this critical issue, and hope to work together to ensure that all voices can be heard, honored and respected.
Member of Congress