We The Deaf People

11. Cinematic Captioning

We the Deaf People enthusiastically supports open-captioning (OC) in cinemas (independently-owned movie theaters, chains, and cineplexes).

In the old days, Deaf viewers had few choices. Subtitled foreign films were popular, but they wanted to see English-language films too. With the advent of closed-captioned home videos and TV captioning, that became a reality . . . but Deaf people missed going to cinemas and seeing first-run movies on the big screen.

In case you’re wondering if the ADA applies to cinemas, it doesn’t. The wealthy and powerful cinema industry got itself exempted from the provisions of the ADA. Tough luck, Deaf people.

Captioning came to the cinema in tiny steps. At first, some chains offered a single OC screening of a single movie once a week, often at a low-traffic time such as early Saturday or Sunday morning, not during the afternoon or evening when most movie-goers wanted to go. We were delighted to see that certain chains had launched open-captioned screenings of first-run movies that were repeated several times daily, so we could see them at our convenience.

However, open-captioned screenings have been phased out in favor of closed-captioned (CC) systems that utilize electronic-decoder eyeglasses or display panels. We have found these cumbersome and annoying. They have interfered with our ability to relax and enjoy the movie, benefiting from captions that are integral with the screen. We do not feel equal when we have to cope with electronic goggles or doodads while hearing members of the audience don’t.

A favorite excuse given by the cinema corporations is that hearing audiences dislike OC, consider it distracting and annoying, and don’t want it. We disagree with this line of reasoning, and with the corporate decision to switch to caption-decoding glasses and panels. Cinema chains have made these changes without sufficient input from and representation by the Deaf community. They claim that the Deaf community supports CC, but we suspect that the polling did not include a large enough sampling of the Deaf community. Nor were the views of culturally-Deaf people taken into consideration; the chains have utilized feedback from organizations that don’t represent a culturally-Deaf constituency.

We understand that captions are encoded in the prints of nearly all movies distributed to cinemas—so that, if the cinemas wanted to display them, they could, at the flick of a switch or the click of a button. But they have been adamant about this.

Our requests to the chains to keep open-captioning as a preferred option have been dismissed or rebuffed. We want to make our views heard and seen on this issue.

Our position:

We want cinemas, whether independently operated or chains, to offer Deaf viewers real choices—and that means open-captioning as well as closed-captioning. We stand firm—we do not want CC, we want OC.