Bryony Parkes: An open letter to the hearing man who complained about subtitles at the cinema

Posted on January 10, 2017

I imagine you’ve forgotten about the woman who approached you just before Christmas, when you went to the cinema to see the latest film of the Star Wars saga; Rogue One.

Just after you’d been grumpy at the man checking the tickets, and walked off in a huff towards the screen, I was the one that came over and said “Excuse me”.

You’d found out it was a subtitled showing and walked away muttering very crossly about this. I said to you “please don’t complain, the subtitles are a lifeline for me”. Your father replied on your behalf, “they should have told us”. I then rather feebly simply reiterated what I had just said and walked away.

As happens to everyone, only afterwards I thought of what I should have said, hence this letter to you. I wasn’t after an argument; I wanted to give you some awareness of my situation.

When I witnessed your cross exchange with the ticket guy, and queried with my husband as to what had happened, I felt a defensive urge to say something. Let me try and explain properly what I meant to say now.

The film was great wasn’t it, I really enjoyed it. How far did you travel to go to the cinema? I will assume, as the probability will be higher than not, that you live locally.

Again, this is an assumption, but on the basis of probability, I imagine that one day last week, you and your Dad decided you’d like to see Rogue One and would go together.

Upon checking your diaries, you saw you both had a free afternoon on Sunday, excellent. You checked online for the times that the film was showing that afternoon, and so turned up to the one that suited you best, to buy your tickets and popcorn. VOILA.

Let me tell you what it was like for me.

Last week, I too, decided that I would like to see Rogue One and as we are all fans of Star Wars, wanted to attend with my husband and children.

As I am profoundly deaf, and 100% reliant on subtitles to follow a film, the week of release, we checked for captioned showings.

We saw that my local town cinema had some captioned showings but, at 9pm on Sunday or 3pm on Tuesday this would mean either a very late Sunday night finish when I have work on Monday, and certainly not one my children can attend with me, or skipping work on Tuesday – well that would be frowned upon. Did you know that there were only 5 subtitled showings of Rogue One on the Saturday of release week, in the whole of the UK?

OK, lets revisit my options. My husband could take the children (hearing) separately earlier in the day, and I see the 9pm Sunday showing solo, (and just make sure I get an early night on Monday). But where’s the fun in that?

Or, we widen the search radius. So we looked at other cinemas, within 30 or so miles and found our 4pm Sunday showing. OK, so we have to trek 30 minutes up the motorway past my local cinema to get there, but that was much more respectable.

Checking our diary, we realised this clashed with a prior engagement, to visit a friend and have mince pies and a cup of tea. Botheration. Maybe I should just wait another week or two, and hope for more listings to be released, and avoid Social Media for a while!

Not wanting to risk seeing spoilers, and really – who wants to wait to see a film they’ve been looking forward to? We sent a text message to our good friends to ask, ‘would it be possible to come over earlier in the day?’ The reply was friendly. Phew. So that’s sorted, and off we go.

Quiz time! Tell me, which one sounds more like something you would do…

  • Rearrange your friends to see a film at the cinema?
  • Rearrange cinema plans to see your friends?

My guess is number 2 is far more likely. You can go to the cinema anytime after all.

You see my point?

I understand you didn’t know it had captions. You said this in your own defence. But the information was there on the website. I checked (I have to; I’m travelling for half an hour to get there). And they did actually tell you at the time of purchase – therefore you did have a chance to change your mind and get a refund. Point is, you CAN go any time. The subtitles don’t affect your ability to understand the dialogue in the film. Why exactly where you so aghast at the idea of subtitles?

So now you understand my situation, let me explain why I approached you. Fact was, it was because I was worried your reaction would damage the cinema’s approach to subtitled delivery. If you complained again a second time, a third time, so on, I was worried the cinema would start to respond to this. No one likes receiving complaints.

It was a knee jerk reaction to approach you. To ask you to please, be careful about what you say and do. To please remember that some people have fought a long time for access at the cinema. The progress in 10 years has been akin to wading through treacle.

We are slowly getting there. Cinemas are starting to listen, they are working with us. Kudos.

But the relationship still feels fragile. Cinemas are commercial businesses, they need to make money. They will always favour the screenings that bring the pounds in. But, I ask you, as a deaf person surely you agree I have the right to see a film in release week, at a normal time, just like you?

So if you feel yourself getting cross that there are subtitles on a screening, when in high probability you could have had your pick of when to go, hopefully now, you understand why I ask that you don’t complain. Take the blinkers off, look at the wider picture. Consider why the subtitles are there. Consider the fear of what’s been fought hard for, being threatened by the majority.

Hope you enjoyed the film.

With Kind Regards

Bryony Parkes

Bryony’s world revolves round her children, 97 meters of garden, visits to the cinema and her current yearning for a cat. She is also profoundly deaf, a keen advocate for equal access and can be found in the Midlands watching Doctor Who with a cup of tea and mince pie.

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