Norfolk deaf blogger battling for more subtitled cinema screenings
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A deaf blogger from Wymondham has been told by cinema bosses it is her responsibility to show the demand is there for subtitled movies amid a passionate campaign.
Ellie Parfitt, 22, started the #SubtitledCinema campaign two years ago, for more films to be shown using subtitles, especially during opening weeks and during peak times.
An online petition launched by Miss Parfitt gained more than 11,000 signatures and she even bagged a meeting with the UK Cinema Association last year.
But now Miss Parfitt, who is profoundly deaf, feels like she has hit a brick wall with the campaign as major cinema chains Odeon, Cineworld, and Vue only agreed to a small increase - and said it was up to her to prove the demand was there for more screenings.
Miss Parfitt said at one point she was even told hearing people did not want subtitles on films as they were distracting.
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She said: "They have 100pc choice of which film they see, deaf people don't. If you explained that if this film wasn't subtitled due to them complaining, it means that this group of deaf people cannot go - hopefully they'd understand but there is no awareness. How is that fair that hearing people get to dictate when we can go?"
"I love watching films and social outings with family and friends and the fact that they get to go the cinema without me is upsetting, isolating and I feel treated unequally as I don't have the choice to go because there's no subtitles."
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"All I want to do is go to the cinema on a regular basis, see the new films - especially in the opening week - with subtitles at a reasonable time, especially Friday/Saturday nights. It breaks my heart when my friends go without me and they're all talking about the latest release and I have to wait months for the DVD to come out."
Miss Parfitt said this was just the latest example of where deaf people faced a disadvantage, and cited audio announcements - especially on public transport - and people not being aware of how to communicate with deaf people as other issues.
She said: "Deafness is one of the biggest disabilities, but the least understood. Hearing people wouldn't like it if films were shown without sound, so why do they think it's okay to show with very few subtitles?"
Miss Parfitt said on average less than 2pc of all films were subtitled, and gave the example of the most recent Avengers film, which she said had 179 showing in Norwich in opening week - but just two were subtitled.
Nationally Vue, Odean, and Cineworld have all agreed to up the number of subtitled films slightly, for a six month trial period.
The UK Cinema Association has now agreed to extend this trial to the end of the year because of delays with advertising the trial on social media.
But Miss Parfitt said: "They've asked me to bring all the deaf people in the UK back to the cinema before the trial ends to see an increase in attendance, for them to think about putting more on. I work full time, it's not my responsibility - it's the cinema's. If they make changes, they need to advertise it, it's an obligation under the Equality Act to tell people - how else will deaf people know about it?
"I was hoping with a good increase - do a launch event and campaign about the benefits subtitles bring, and a positive media push but they wanted to do minimal publicity. I feel they're not willing to work with me, in the hope that I'll give up and walk away. Then, nothing will change.
"My fear is come the end of the trial, we will be back to square one, just because they didn't advertise it, and my hard work was for nothing.
"I don't want to give up but they're not willing to work with me unless people go to watch subtitled films. This is so disheartening."
A spokesman for the UK Cinema Association said: "We reiterate our wish to continue our dialogue with Ellie and that - mindful of the unexpected delays in getting everything in place for the current trial, that we plan to extend it to the end of the year.
"We will as promised now begin social media support and would hope that Ellie and others would be willing to help us in amplifying that message so as many people as possible know about the increase in provision.
"While it may not be all that Ellie wants it to be, we do see it as an important step towards further progress in this area."
How accessible are cinemas?
The UK Cinema Association has set up Accessible Screenings UK, a one-stop-shop website for people to confirm details of accessible screenings - this includes subtitled, audio described or autism friendly screenings - near to them. The site remains in development but it is hoped it will be launched in the coming months.
It has also launched the Technology challenge Fund, an attempt to identify solutions which would allow deaf and hard of hearing people to see subtitles on personalised devices.
Many cinemas are also able to offer hearing hoops, or audio description equipment, plus put on autism or dementia-friendly screenings.