Michael McNeely: Why for me, going to the cinema is like going to church

Posted on September 28, 2016



Movies are my religion, and I hope I can keep seeing them for the rest of my (very long) life. My name is Michael McNeely, and I am many things: a teacher, a hopeful applicant to law school, a disability advocate, and, most recently, an accessibility and entertainment critic.

I live and work in Toronto, Canada, and I have just started to write for the Limping Chicken, in the hopes of making contacts with the Deaf community across the world. I am deaf-blind, and have Usher’s Syndrome, although I don’t want this label to define who I am.

Why do I like movies so much? One main reason is that I have the opportunity to go anywhere, anytime. For the Toronto International Film Festival, which occurred a few weeks ago, I saw 55 films. Due to a lack of English subtitles for English-spoken films, the vast majority of my films were foreign, and were filmed in many locations, such as the Netherlands, Japan, Tibet, Iceland, and Mexico, to name a few.

Film is a safe way to travel and experience many different cultures. With subtitles, it is also accessible – if the subtitles are correct, you understand just as much as a native speaker of whatever language people are speaking.

Another reason why I enjoy going to films is that I know what to expect before the film starts. Most of the time, I line up, purchase my tickets, get popcorn, get my CaptiView device, find my seat, save it, go to the washroom, come back, and watch the previews (which are mostly not subtitled, but I know what the films are anyway).

I imagine this is like going to church – there’s a procedure, a series of events, a tradition, that makes you comfortable and in part, stops you from thinking too much about other things. I prepare myself to be entertained and to escape a little while. The routine is still the same even if I don’t know what the film is about – and so, I end up preparing for every eventuality.

There is one eventuality, however, that makes me sad. That the CaptiView (a closed-captioning device) won’t work, or that I made a mistake in thinking that the film was CaptiView-enabled. That I prepared myself – sometimes, it can be a hassle to get to the movie theatre in the first place – and I cannot laugh or cry with the others watching the film. I probably know more about the film than the others watching it at that time, yet, I cannot see it!

This is what motivated me to be both an accessibility and entertainment critic, for first, a website called the Dork Shelf, and now, for other publications, such as this one. I want to advocate for better use of closed captioning/subtitles in our cinemas.

I’m not stopping there. The college I go to – George Brown College – has a closed captioning policy which means teachers cannot screen films that aren’t closed captioned in their classes. I want other colleges and universities to have this policy. Captioning is a right, and it is surprising how many times a lack of captioning has been an unnecessary barrier for D/deaf people.

I’m going to fight for my freedom of religion. Feel free to join me.

Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind advocate based in Toronto, Canada. He wears many hats, including that of accessibility and entertainment critic, English teacher, and hopeful law student. He is currently studying Level 3 of ASL at George Brown College. He has Usher’s Syndrome, wears glasses, and can hear with a cochlear implant (implanted in 1991). 

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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