Wonder Woman Movie Experience Not Wonderful For a Deaf Theatergoer

Cardboard display of W logo and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in front of it.

Since learning about TV captions in 8th grade, I cannot imagine my life without good quality captions – for movies, videos, live events. I didn’t start going to movie theaters until I was in college when I learned about movies with open captions that were displayed directly on the screen and it was a wonderful experience! Sadly, later more theaters decided to stop offering open captions and started to force deaf and hard of hearing patrons to use cumbersome closed captioned devices.

My experience with RearView handheld devices was so frustrating that I stopped going to movie theaters altogether about 10 or so years ago – except for rare open captioned movies. Many other deaf and hard of hearing people also hate closed captioned devices (RearView, CaptiView, Sony glasses) and prefer open captions. They have been fighting with movie theaters for open captioned screenings without luck. 

I usually wait until movies are released for home viewing on DVDs or in iTunes. As I learned about the Wonder Woman movie, however, I could not wait and decided to make the exception to watch it at a movie theater. Wonder Woman has been my favorite childhood superhero. I enjoyed watching TV series with Lynda Carter who played Diana Prince. When I first watched the series, they were not captioned, so I watched them again when I got older and could understand everything and fully enjoy the series. Unlike other superheros, Wonder Woman hasn’t been featured in movies for a long time until recently – in the Batman vs Superman movie and finally in the long awaited Wonder Woman movie released this year.

Sadly no theaters in NYC offered open captioned screenings of Wonder Woman. The only options were closed captioned devices – CaptiView at AMC theaters and Sony glasses at Regal theaters. While I don’t like any closed captioned devices – both are bulky, uncomfortable to use and have issues with battery if not charged properly, I decided to choose CaptiView over Sony glasses because glasses put too much weight on nose and also I didn’t want to get pink eye. I was hesitating to go to a movie theater after having bad experience with closed captioned devices in past but I decided to give CaptiView a chance with hopes things would improve.

I tweeted AMC social media team asking if they provided CaptiView and they said yes and gave my email address to several movie theater managers which was great. The theater managers responded to me via email that they would arrange devices. They also told me that hey had a limited number of devices and one theater even said that they would need to borrow them from another theater if I decided to go to theirs so they asked me for how many people needed them and at what time. This is also another reason for open captioned movies as there may not be enough closed captioned devices for those who need them.

I decided on a theater and showtime for a Friday evening. The manager of the chosen theater promised that captioned devices would be ready and FULLY charged for my deaf friend and I to pick up by time we arrive. I have been hearing numerous complaints from many deaf and hard of hearing patrons about battery issues with both CaptiView and Sony glasses if they are not charged properly, so I wanted to make sure to prepare in advance.

Alas, my experience turned out to be worse than I expected. When my friend and I arrived to customer service desk to pick up devices, they told me they would not have them ready for us until the movie start time. I told the customer service worker we needed time to adjust captioning devices. He said there will be plenty time as first there would be movie advertisements (that are usually NOT captioned). I told him that my friend and I had to figure out where to sit before seats are filled. So he brought devices to our seats. When I asked him if the devices were fully charged, he assured that they were. The devices had many buttons and looked so uncomfortable. Also the gooseneck was not very flexible. The customer service worker had to set up the complicated device.

Once the film ads started, I got concerned because my friend had captions showing but not me and my device was turning on and off automatically. Sometimes it showed captions and sometimes not. As the actual film started, captions finally started showing. But after like 20 minutes of the movie, I started seeing “!!! BATTERY LEVEL VERY LOW !!!” warning! I was so upset because I was promised the battery would be FULLY charged! I was sitting in middle of the row between other people so I could not leave my seat. Also, captions on my device were still running but with the frequent low battery warning I was stressed out wondering for how long captions would last and when they would stop? The warning kept repeating every 5-10 minutes and more frequently with time.

I tried to DM via tweet to AMC social media team who said they could not give me text number of customer service for me to contact. They said they could not offer text support inside the auditorium as it would be very distracting to other moviegoers and also suggested that I leave the room and approach the customer service desk. But how was it different from my trying to tweet to AMC? Leaving my seat would be even more disrupting to others. AMC for some reasons could not reach the customer service at the theater I was in via phone for a long time. I also tried to reach to a manager of another theater because the manager of the theater where I was in didn’t respond to my email at all. Luckily the manager of another theater responded via email and called the customer service of the theater I was in.

Around an hour after the film started, the customer service worker finally came in and tried to get to the middle of the row and to talk to me. I told him I was deaf and could not lipread in dark. He realized that and decided to plug in a battery charger in my device without any further questions or comments. Yet for the another hour I wasn’t happy because I was seeing “Charging…” in captions that appeared more frequently than “low battery” warning! The ongoing “Charging….” word in captions was even more distracting to me and made my captioning experience worse than the “low battery” warning. Think about this – “Hi! How are you? Charging..” “I’m fine, thanks. Charging…” It’s like listening to dialogues being distracted by verbal warnings all time.

By the time the movie was over, I got exhausted and irritated. While I liked the movie, I missed many parts due to being distracted with the device battery problems and trying to reach to AMC for help. So I would need to see the film again. I appreciate that AMC management refunded my ticket and suggested to watch the movie again for free and especially to ensure this experience wouldn’t happen again. However, this was not my first or the only experience and also of many other deaf and hard of hearing theatergoers – those problems have been going on for many years. We prefer OPEN captions and want to have the equal experience to other theatergoers. Many theater owners would not provide open captions in the fear that it would turn away hearing theatergoers who would complain about “distracting” captions – without enough research or evidence. It’s only a small number of hearing people who would complain about captions – without realizing how much they take for granted the ease of going to any theater without concerns about access to aural information. Many hearing people don’t mind captions at all as long as they are done well.

Captions benefit more people than just those who are deaf or hard of hearing. It could be non-native English speakers (there are many of them living in NYC and in USA), remedial readers, people with certain learning disabilities and so on. Even people with normal hearing say how much captions help them because they may miss or have difficulties understanding certain parts of aural information. My parents, for example, have normal hearing, but English is not their first language, so they would prefer open captions on screens in theaters – they would not even consider any closed captioned devices at all.

Interestingly, the movie was about oppression of women by men and about equality and justice. What about deaf people being oppressed by hearing people?! Why should we accept breadcrumbs by using those inconvenient devices instead of enjoying OPEN captions on a screen that benefits EVERYONE?! If more wheelchair ramps are common now, open captions should become common, too. Saying how “distracting” open captions are is like saying how “distracting” wheelchair ramps are – which is really ridiculous. Captioning users deserve to have the equal experience like everyone else – without feeling stressed out if a device battery runs out or if there are more captioning users than functioning closed captioned devices available.

Open captions not only improve movie going experience for more deaf and hard of hearing people and many others who rely on captions, but also are more cost-effective for movie theaters. One open captioned screen would reach more audience in the auditorium than a limited number of closed captioned devices that can easily malfunction or not charged properly as it happened in my case. In addition to this, ALL movie producers need to caption all of their trailers, clips, various videos on their websites and social media – most of it is NOT accessible to captioning users!

I hope that AMC, Regal, and other theater owners seriously consider offering open captions for all movie screenings all time for everyone. Until then I will not attend movie theaters again.