Films + Theater

A Deaf Movie-Lover’s Cry: Bring Open Captioning Back

I am a movie person. There are few things that I love more than the feeling I have while watching a film that’s been beautifully made. There is so much that I love about movies, but perhaps the element that means the most to me is the dialogue. Sometimes a single word uttered will be the most memorable part of the entire movie for me. I also love the experience of watching a movie in the theaters just as much as I love popping in a Blu-Ray in the comforts of my own bedroom. Some movies are simply better watched on theater screens and with theater speakers.

So, when newer captioning technology came out, it should have been great news for me and other deaf movie-goers. More and more theaters nowadays offer these devices for any movie playing! I know I’m loving the ability to just up and go out to catch a flick whenever I feel like it, but I’m also pissed off. In this year alone, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had a movie experience completely ruined by incompetent staff and crappy captioning devices, but what I want to tell you about is these particular two incidents that recently happened within only a month and at two different locations.

First incident at Cineopolis, Del Mar (San Diego): I was really excited about watching “Silver Linings Playbook” at this adult-only theater. The ticket price is steep here ($20), but it’s well worth the occasional treat due to their comfortable, leather inclining love seats, less crowd, and waiters who will serve you food and drinks throughout the movie. So, I called early that day to make sure that there were going to be captions and even arrived 45 minutes prior to the movie to purchase tickets. I informed the employee that my boyfriend, Kent, and I would need two CVs and to get them ready for when we came back.

Fast forward 45 minutes later: the employee goes with us into the theater to charge my CV into my seat because the battery was dead. “LOW BATTERY LIFE!!!” the CV screams at me, blinking. The movie begins and as the first line is spoken, it is immediately replaced with “LOW BATTERY LIFE!!!” Are you fucking kidding me? Nobody bothered to check after I called hours ago or when I came in 45 minutes before the movie began? Kent and I look at each other; as fellow lovers of movies, we knew that there was no way we were going to spend the next 15 minutes resolving this issue and then coming back in to enjoy the movie. Like I said, a single word can be a powerful moment in a film, and sometimes it happens in the first ten minutes of the movie!

So, we storm to Guest Services, demanding our money back. Several pages of my wrath written on paper and pen and two refunds later, Kent and I begin to leave the theater when we realize how truly unfair this situation was. We took the time and made the trip to Del Mar, which we wouldn’t be getting back, and it would actually cost us more money to come back– even with the refund– because of gas. We turn around and go back to ask for a movie voucher each to compensate. We get the manager, who seems resistant at first but immediately agrees after I exasperatedly tell him that we weren’t trying to be greedy, but that only a refund was simply not enough for this unfair situation.

We went back a week later, bringing Kent’s dad, Steve, this time. And guess what? They only had two CVs available. I ended up sharing a CV with Kent. Unbelievable, right?

Second incident at Edwards Stadium, Alhambra (Los Angeles): My friend, Violet, was in town and we were walking around Chinatown when we decided we wanted to catch a flick. We took a look at and saw that “Life of Pi” in 3D was playing nearby in two hours. Immediately, I opened my Convo Mobile app and called the theater to inquire about captioning for a 3D movie– something I had never experienced. My Seth Rogen lookalike interpreter had to clarify with the person speaking several times, because it was difficult to understand how it would work, so I just asked, “Is it awkward at all? Is it actually designed for watching 3D movies with captions?” and the response I got was: “There’s been no complaints. They do work.” So, Violet and I decided to go for it. “Make sure you have two CGs with 3D ready for ‘Life of Pi’ at 7:30!” I said before hanging up.

At Edwards, we bought our tickets and were handed the actual 3D plastic glasses, which have durable and thick lens, but then the employee realized we would need CGs, so she took them back and instructed us to go to Guest Services. When we got there, I kid you not– we waited 15 minutes before the CGs were ready. During that time, I wrote a pissed-off note about how I called to prepare them and yet, the CGs were not ready and the movie was starting at any moment! Finally, the manager gave us our CGs, which had… are you ready for this? I am being totally serious when I say this: crappy 3D paper lens taped on the CG lens.

At this point, I was just thinking whatever! and hurried to our theater. I put my CG on, but Violet commented that hers was “cloudy”, so I put hers on to see. Sure enough, the image was totally foggy for some reason, not clear like mine was. Furious, I grabbed her CG and ran (I literally ran. The previews were almost ending!) back to the Guest Service booth and told the manager to replace the lens PRONTO. In two minutes, I was back in my seat and “Life of Pi” was just starting. Violet and I hurriedly tried to put our glasses on while trying not to fumble with the buttons on the box. But guess what? Violet’s 3D lens not only fell off, the captions were a green pixelated mess. Screw this, I thought. We sulked out and I proceeded to give that (stupid, bad-breath, unapologizing) manager a piece of my mind. And the worst part of it all? He had the nerve to act like I was overreacting. By the time Violet and I left Edwards with two vouchers each– my right hand cramping up from all the furious writing I did– I had decided that I was done with berating every single manager for inadequate training with captioning devices and that I was going to do something bigger about it.

So, here I am. I’m writing about my experience with captions at movie theaters publicly and I invite you all to join me: please share yours in the comments and please feel free to include the theater and location. Take Wisconsin Association of the Deaf’s survey on movie captioning: Write to Congress in favor of Captioning and Image Narration to Enhance Movie Accessibility Act (CINEMA S. 555) and Air Carrier Access Amendment Act: Let’s start a dialogue on what solution(s) we should be demanding from movie theaters everywhere. Here are mine:

1. Turn on Open Captioning every time a Deaf person requests it, period. Open Captioning have tremendous benefits. Consider this: They are much cheaper than the other (and often defective) captioning technologies. Open Captioning doesn’t require staff training or competence, thus saving money on training and the countless refunds/movie vouchers given to Deaf people. Many Senior Citizens enjoy captioning as well, and it can help hearing audiences understand accents and/or low voices better. Captioning also promotes literacy. Hearing people that complain about captions will just get used to it after a few minutes, and even if they don’t, they can still understand the movie. We can’t say the same for ourselves. All you have to do is turn them on.

2. Meanwhile, focus on more employee training. Have a Deaf person or organization (such as Deaf state agencies) train employees on how to use the devices and make them actually watch a movie with these devices. Not only that, teach them the basics of Deaf culture and ASL for a much-needed improvement in customer service. Lastly, develop a list of job duties that include nightly battery charging and sanitizing, and weekly maintenance check-ups. Oh, and have more than just two captioning devices, for fuck’s sake.

I love going to the movies and I am Deaf. I demand better from movie theaters than this. Bring Open Captioning back!

Comic by Carlisle Robinson

Comic by Carlisle Robinson

For more of Carlisle’s comics, go to:


6 thoughts on “A Deaf Movie-Lover’s Cry: Bring Open Captioning Back

  1. Sammi says:

    wow. i WOULD say you were lucky you had problems at the beginnning of the movies when i had problems with my CV in the MIDDLE! i was intently watching/reading when i suddenly realized the dialogue didn’t match what was going on…i realized it was probably turned on to the next door movie’s dialogue!! i had to lean over to read my logan’s CV while logan & i had to try & fix my CV. it wouldn’t connect to the movie that i was watching. so i had to read off logan’s CV before we decided to fix mine once again. good enough, it finally connected. WTF. i didnt complain because it was in the middle of the movie and i didnt want to deal with dumbasses that didnt know what they were doing.

  2. Agreed. Thank you for writing this essay! And thanks for adding my comic!

    I definitely had similar experiences as you did.

    A friend and I watched “Life of the Pi”, 3D with CG glasses too. My friend and I arrived, and the movie started. At first we weren’t aware that there’s no cc on glasses because there’s subtitles on screen when they were not speaking English. Then the subtitles disappeared. We were like huh? and figured it out. We ran to front desk. We stared at them anxiously for 5 minutes while they were fixing it. They fixed it. We ran back. But the screen was blurry due to stupid 3D film that’s on the CG glasses. I removed the 3D film, ran back out of movie theater, and grabbed 3D glasses. The worker suggested to fix the blurriness. I said NO, I do not want to waste 10 minutes having it fixing. I’ll just put 3D glasses behind CG. Yup, my friend and I had to wear two glasses, 3D glasses and CG glasses. Thank god I was wearing eye contacts, or I’d have to wear a total of 3 glasses!!! But, my friend and I missed about 20 minutes of beginning of the movie. We were NOT too happy about that; movie tickets are not cheap. Good thing I’ve read the book, thus I was able to fill in my friend the missing information.

    I do truly appreciate CaptionFish app, but it is not 100% reliable. Movie theaters seem to enjoy putting on website saying they’ll have cc, then pissing off deaf customers when they said they actually don’t have cc.

    Open captioning is my most favorite cc since it is least hassle of all. If captioning disappeared, worker could notice it immediately and fix it, instead of me running all way to front desk, complain, wait for stunned teenager worker run to talk to their supervisor, wait for the supervisor finding technician, wait for the technician to come to talk to me, I explaining whole thing again, wait for the technician to go fix it, hoping it will be fixed, then finally, after more than 10 minutes, I am able to go back to movie and enjoy it.

    I am tired of hearing people complaining about open captioning. It is similar to having an ASL interpreter sitting next to a speaker. Would they complain about ASL interpreters being distracting while they know how important ASL interpreters are for deaf clients to gain access to dialogues? No. They shouldn’t complain about open captioning too. It’s just 90 minutes of their lives that they have to “suffer” watching a movie with captioning, while it is WHOLE of our lives that we deaf people had to put up with captioning.

    I agree, having 5 or fewer captioning devices is NOT enough. Movie theaters should carry at least 30 captioning devices. That way, they can be prepared for a large group of deaf friends, deaf students on a school field trip, deaf group home clients, or a deaf club event.

    Also, devices such as CG should come with instructor manual for workers AND deaf customers. When I went to see the “Life of Pi” movie, it was my first time with 3D CG glasses. Had I understood how it worked, the workers and I would be able to put on the 3D film properly.

    I’ve had so much terrible experiences with movie theaters because of their inaccessibility. As a result, I don’t go see movies as often as I would like to. If the CINEMA Act passes, I’d go watch movie more often.

  3. I’ve only gone to a showing in a theater once in the past two years. I’m a deaf person, and wear glasses. I find all of the new technologies to be more intrusive than OC. I’ve always skipped out on every CV/CG/etc showing, but when I heard that THE RAID: REDEMPTION, an Indonesian action flick released in 2011, were always shown in the theater with OC, I just had to go.

    The total immersion of the experience coupled with the intense kung-fu pace of the flick blew me away. I really, really missed that experience. I tried watching SUPER 8, and STAR TREK with CV a long time ago, and the experience just didn’t feel the same. I had to constantly adjust my apparatus to stay level with the screen, and watching the movie while doing that made my attempts at enjoying the movies noticeably more difficult.

    Now, I just wait for the DVDs/Blu-Rays to come out on RedBox or Netflix before I can get the chance to enjoy them. In my case, is the theater not missing out on the chance to make cash off of me, too? I’m sure that many more feels the same as me, and it’s probably not even limited to the deaf. The elderly, and people trying to learn English could run into the same problems we are.

    Please bring back OC!

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