Subtitled cinema screenings, and their highs and lows

Subtitled screenings are vital for those who struggle with hearing - but finding one at a decent time isn't easy...

Imagine going to the cinema to see the latest release: you get comfortable on your seat, popcorn and drink in hand, eagerly waiting for the film to start. But there’s one problem. The sound isn’t working on the adverts. You brush it off and think they’ll fix it in time for the film. The film starts. Still no sound. What do you do? Leave and mention it to the cinema assistant or the manager, get your money back and go another time that’s suitable for you? Sound easy enough, right?.

Now, replace the word ‘sound’ with ‘subtitles’. This is the struggle faced by most d/Deaf/Hard of Hearing (HoH) individuals in the UK when they visit a cinema that has been advertised as a subtitled screening. Unlike most cinemas, the next subtitled screening isn’t just 30 minutes after the previous film has finished, we only get it once, or twice if we’re lucky, throughout the whole of the duration the film is broadcast at selected locations. The additional struggle is actually getting the subtitled screenings at suitable times. Some of us have to travel a fair distance to get to the only cinema in the area offering this service.

There have been numerous occasions where cinemas have not supported d/Deaf/HoH people in providing subtitles. The latest, being incidents in some major multiplex cinemas with the screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Advertised as subtitled screenings, people of hearing attended a screening in the south, realised that the screening they paid for was subtitled… and complained. What did the cinema do? They effectively forced the d/Deaf/HoH people to leave the cinema, refunded their tickets and replayed the film without subtitles.

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Another multiplex around Manchester failed a deaf gentleman by not putting subtitles on the Star Wars film after his daughter had complained to staff. Their response? “It was a technical fault.” This just happens to be the reason the sites give every time they fail d/Deaf/HoH people and I for one, think this level of customer service is not good enough. Said cinemas are set to be addressing their policies.

The d/Deaf/HoH Community want to spend their money by attending the cinema like everybody else. We want to see the latest films, but with really unsociable timings or cinemas failing to provide subtitles, there’s no wonder we all have a drawer full of unused complimentary cinema tickets. All because we’re not being provided the service that the cinema companies promised.

The same excuses being repeated from cinema management on why they were unable to provide subtitles when advertised, the Community quite rightly have a reason to be upset.

A petition created by deaf blogger Ellie (also known as Deafie Blogger on Twitter), requested cinemas to preview subtitled films at suitable times has gained over 4,000 signatures to date. Imagine a world where cinemas would make sure that the subtitles are working correctly, more screenings are offered with better time allocations and as a result, it would likely bring in a bigger audience. (Because really, who from the d/Deaf/HoH community, or anyone at all, is going to go to the cinema at 10.15 on a Tuesday morning for a screening?)

The cinemas claim that there is “not enough demand”, however are they technically failing to comply with the Equality Act 2010? Which states that organisations must make “reasonable adjustments” for those using their services. By not providing subtitled showings for d/Deaf/HoH customers, they are not making themselves accessible. There’s no surprise that there’s ‘no demand’ because nobody will show up! We want to change that. Cinema websites state that they offer loop systems and T-Coil for hearing aid users, but not every d/Deaf/HoH person in the UK wears one. Some of us use sign language and others rely on lip-reading but most importantly, we all require subtitles one way or another.

From my own personal experience being a severely profound deaf user, of the films I had been to in the last five years that weren’t subtitled, it was an absolute nightmare to hear what being said. Not only because of the sheer volume of the action scenes hurting my ears with my hearing aids, it always resulted in not understanding three quarters of the film and leaving fairly confused, disappointed and upset.

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With lack of suitable times to watch the films I had planned, endless emails were sent to the cinema chains, only to get ‘we’re working on this, have some complimentary vouchers’ as a response each time, with nothing actually being done about it. On the plus side, the selected few (totalling to just five in the same time frame!) that were suitably subtitled brought a much more enjoyable and relaxed experience. I had great pleasure in seeing a subtitled Jumanji screening during release week (which is somewhat rare in most cases) with my other half at a fairly reasonable time and on a weekday (7.15pm). Despite being subtitled, there was a fair number of people in the same room and no complaints were heard or made compared to those who had difficulty with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

So, what do we do? Of course, not everyone will wish to see subtitles for a select number of reasons, the main one being that it could be a strong distraction and you’d miss out critical scenes of the film. However, I disagree and highly recommend everyone to go to at least one subtitled screening. Why? Well, firstly (and mainly) that if more people attend subtitled showings, cinemas may put more regular screenings in place, making it more accessible and feel like they’re truly complying with the Equality Act 2010. Following from this, it would mean that d/Deaf/HoH individuals can still go out with friends and family, enjoy the film and feel included. We’re repeatedly being left out in situations like this and believe me, there’s no worse feeling other than regret because you’ve had to tell your friends you’re unable to go to the cinema because there are no subtitles available.

Would you really go to the cinema where the films spoken language isn’t in English? You’d expect to understand what is going on in English at least? That’s what subtitles are for. Why wait until the DVD release to find out what that character actually said half way through the film that you missed out? With subtitles, you can read what is said without having to look away from the screen and not miss a single sentence! Those really quiet moments where characters are hush toned or whispering and you couldn’t hear because someone was rudely talking or loudly rustling their treat packets? Subtitles will sort that! What about your friend whose first language isn’t English? They’d be delighted to have subtitles to understand the language and make more sense of it. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? There are more positives than negatives and that’s what should be focused on.

You see, these are just a small number of reasons to visit a subtitled screening and by going to one of them, you will be making the d/Deaf/HoH Community feel wanted and included. So why not join us? We’d love you to experience a subtitled screening. We want you to leave the cinema with a new open mind, with hope that you’d return because you read every word on the screen and didn’t miss a single thing. We’d ideally love to see much more accessibility in 2018 and it can only be done with the help of you, dear reader.

To sign Ellie’s petition to encourage cinemas to put on more subtitled screenings, the link is here