Lost in Translation? Russian Media Portrayals and Laypersons’ Interpretations of Angelina Jolie’s Breast Cancer Discourse
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In May 2013, Angelina Jolie revealed that because she had a family history of breast and ovarian cancer and carried a rare BRCA gene mutation, she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy. Media coverage has been extensive around the world, including in Russia, not an English-language country, where all global news is inevitably filtered by translation. After examining the reactions of Russian mass media and members of the public to Jolie’s disclosure, I consider what transformations have occurred with Jolie’s message in the process of cross-cultural transfer. I explore the mass media portrayal of Jolie’s announcement, laypersons’ immediate and prolonged reactions, and the reflections of patients involved directly in the field of hereditary breast cancer. To my knowledge, this multifaceted and bilingual project is the first conceptualization of Jolie’s story as it has been translated in a different sociocultural environment. I start with examination of offline and online publications that appeared in Russia within two months after Jolie’s announcement. In this part of my analysis, I conceptualize the representation of Jolie’s case in Russian mass media and grasp what sociocultural waves were generated by this case among general lay audiences. Another part of my study contains the results of qualitative in-depth interviews. Eight women with a family history of hereditary breast cancer were recruited to participate in the research. The findings represent Jolie’s case through the eyes of Russian women with the same gene mutation as Jolie. Consolidating my findings, I argue that Jolie’s announcement was misinterpreted and misrepresented by Russian mass media, as well as misunderstood by a considerable part of the media audience. Jolie’s perspective on hereditary breast cancer mostly remained unheard among members of the Russian public. I make suggestions about the reasons for such a phenomenon, and demonstrate how Jolie’s case is implicated in politics, economics, and the culture of contemporary Russia.