AMC Theaters bring open captions to cinemas nationwide

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Wally Gobetz | Flickr

Edgar Llivisupa

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. announced 240 of its nationwide locations will support open captioning in a press release on Oct 15.

Over 100 markets with at least two theaters will offer showtimes with open captions for all newly released films. However, as open caption screenings will be limited, most screenings will be offering closed captioning and assisted listening devices will continue to be available, according to AMC.

Unlike closed captions, which are accessible for viewers through an external device upon request, open captions are displayed on the screen and cannot be turned off.

“By adding open captions to the variety of presentation formats we offer, AMC locations become a more welcoming place for millions of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as many for whom English is not their native language,” Elizabeth Frank, AMC executive vice president of worldwide programming and chief content officer, said in a press release. “Initial consumer response has been very positive, and we anticipate strong demand with growing awareness of open caption showtimes at AMC.”

Around 15% of adult Americans reported difficulty hearing according to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention.

John Fithian, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told The New York Times that theater owners are concerned patrons will not be fans of seeing captions on screen.

“In some cases, putting open captions on the screen diminishes ticket sales for the movie,” Fithian said, adding that open captions often consist of anecdotal evidence, and that the group is also studying whether open captions can drive ticket sales to an industry still recovering from the pandemic.

Christian Vogler, a professor and director of the Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University, told The Washington Post that the announcement was a “big deal.”

“AMC is the first major chain to do so, and moreover they are doing so voluntarily. Deaf and hard of hearing advocates have been asking for expanded access to open captions since forever,” Vogler said. “To date, open-captioned shows have been far and few between, and often at inconvenient times.”

Competitors Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Cineworld Group, the owner of theater chain Regal Cinemas, have not announced plans to add open captions to their theaters.

In a tweet announcing the news, CEO Adam Aron included a picture of Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” featuring Lauren Ridloff, a deaf actress who plays Makkari, the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In an August interview with The New York Times, Ridloff said that she was frustrated by accessibility features at theaters that include malfunctioning closed-captioned devices.

“Then you have to go back to the front desk and find somebody to help, and by the time they figure out that it’s not working — that it’s not going to be subtitled at all — the movie’s halfway done,” Ridloff said. “Then you get, ‘Well, how about I give you a free ticket for the next movie?’ And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ That doesn’t fix the problem.”