Adding movie captions is a long-overdue good move

Published 5:18 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

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AMC Theatres, one of the biggest movie theater chains in the United States, announced recently that they’re going to start adding open captioning to selected movie showings throughout the country.

Open captioning is similar to subtitles in that the words appear on the screen itself instead of on a separate device. The change will help make movies more accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing moviegoers who previously have had to rely on closed captioning devices when visiting a movie theater.

“Inclusive programming is core to AMC’s strategy, and we’re proud to lead the theatrical exhibition industry by making some open caption showtimes available at hundreds of our locations nationwide,” said AMC’s chief content officer and executive vice president of worldwide programming Elizabeth Frank in a press release.

I agree that it’s great to see an effort to make movies more accessible to everyone. Though I do wonder why it’s taken so long for such a simple solution to be implemented.

Those “hundreds of locations” Frank mentioned will apparently be a total of 240 locations in more than 100 U.S. markets. I’m not sure which places specifically will be included (I haven’t seen specifics on any of the news reporting on the topic), but that sounds like it will probably be spread out all around the country and not just clustered in one area at least.

But I don’t quite understand why this change isn’t going to be at every AMC theater right away. The logistics of it doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult or costly to do everywhere. Do they think deaf and hard-of-hearing people only live in certain cities? Do they think people will complain about the addition of captioning despite the fact that there will still be movie times without it also available?

I don’t know. I’ve personally always preferred having subtitles when I watch anything, even though I don’t have any hearing impairments. For me, it makes it a lot easier to remember what’s going on and make sure I don’t miss anything.

From what I’ve read, open captions seem like a much better option than using a closed captioning device. I didn’t know anything about them before, so I looked into what is available for hearing-impaired moviegoers. AMC’s website lists assistive listening devices (which are basically just headsets) and closed captioning devices. The small captioning device fits into your cupholder and will display all the dialogue of the movie on its screen.

I’ve obviously never used one before, but that seems rather inconvenient. What if you bought a drink with your popcorn? Do you have to balance that between your knees? And doesn’t it seem like it would be more difficult to look between two different screens for the whole movie?

Indiewire had an article about AMC’s announcement, which noted that plenty of people have complained over the years that closed captioning devices (regardless of which theater chain offers them) have trouble with malfunctions, syncing up with the movie, or not being charged up beforehand.

Can you imagine having to rely on a device and then that device stops working halfway through the movie? Guess you’ll just have to guess what happens at the end and wait patiently until the movie pops up on DVD or some streaming service.

Indiewire’s story also had several quotes that I thought were worth sharing on the topic as well.

Lawrence Carter-Long, a spokesperson for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said, “People have become more accustomed to seeing captions on the ubiquitous screens that surround us – everywhere from the treadmills at gyms, to TVs in bars showing championship playoff games, to the scrolls at the bottom of our newscasts.”

I think that’s an excellent point to make. There are plenty of subtitles and captions around that we can skim over if we don’t personally need them. Why not add them to movie theaters as well?

Carter-Long also noted that adding a captioned option is good business sense because “captioning opens the market for each film screened to an additional number of viewers – not only individuals who are deaf or have hearing disabilities, but also people who are aging, folks whose primary language isn’t English, and everyone who doesn’t want to miss important dialogue.”

I agree with that too! Anything that would bring in more customers doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

I hope AMC’s new change is successful and popular, so that other theaters will try it out as well. Particularly those closer to our local area.

I read that this change came at the perfect time for Marvel’s upcoming “Eternals” movie which features a deaf actress, Lauren Ridloff, as one of the leading superheroes of the film. Ridloff herself has spoken out in interviews about how frustrating the closed captioning devices can be.

Before I read anything about this topic, I did not think much about accessibility issues for people with disabilities. But education is the key to making things better for everyone. If you take a moment to look around, you can probably spot plenty of things in our everyday lives that aren’t completely accessible to everyone, even when they should be.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990. It’s supposed to help people get reasonable accommodations and accessibility if necessary. That was over 30 years ago, and yet, we are only just now making such an easy change as adding more movie showtimes with captions on screen.

We can do better than that, right?

I urge all of you this week to look around and see how accessible things are. What areas need to be improved? And what areas are already doing well? Let’s take some time to learn more about how far we need to go until everyone can enjoy life together.

Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or by phone at 252-332-7206.