The present investigation sets out to describe how ethnonyms and racial slurs relating to the portrayal of black characters in US films have been translated and retranslated for Italian audiences through dubbing and subtitling. The study first underlines significant socio-linguistic changes in labelling African American ethnicity in US films. It then analyses the way in which this dynamic vocabulary has been communicated to Italian audiences between the 1960s and the 1990s. The search for socio-linguistic correspondence is analysed by looking at the interpretative strategies of first translations (i.e. dubbed versions) and subsequent retranslations (i.e. subtitles of films previously dubbed). A selection of examples highlights the translators’ preferences among possible lexical alternatives and then shows how their choices are variously constrained by socio-cultural and linguistic specificity, by normativism and habitual translational behaviour. Different technical requirements and the historical and industrial contingency of dubbing and subtitling in Italy are also considered. Finally, the diverse renderings in Italian dubbed and subtitled versions suggest temporal variation and shifts in social and cultural mores in relation to the use of linguistic ethnic offence.