Drive-In Theaters have an Audio Description and Inclusion Issue


Movie theaters have been closed in Los Angeles since March. Since then I have been to my local drive-in theater three times and have discovered one major flaw. For those who are visually impaired, some movies are difficult to see normally. At a drive-in, it becomes even more difficult since conditions are not ideal. Things like bright headlights, not so great projectors, dirty windshields, and so many other factors can impede the viewing experience at a drive-in theater very easily. I have been tolerating these conditions the last few months because I truly miss going to the movies and drive-in theaters are as close to that as I can get. When I go to a brick and mortar theater there are usually audio description devices that are available. There is nothing like that at the drive-in theater. The last few times I went to the drive-in, having no audio description was not that big of a deal. As bad as it sounds, I am sort of used to not being able to watch certain content with audio description.This weekend however a movie is coming out that I have been looking forward to for years, New Mutants. I am not only a superhero movie fan and a Marvel fan, but also an X-Men movie fan. And this new X-Men spinoff is a horror movie, which is my favorite genre, so it is right up my alley.

In other states, besides California and New York, some movie theaters are open and will be showing New Mutants this weekend, And will most likely have audio description devices available. For me, audio description is especially important when watching superhero movies. These movies usually involve fast cuts and lots of action so the description really helps visually impaired people like me follow the excitement much easier. Paired with the fact that New Mutants is also a horror movie, and considering I have seen the trailer, this movie is going to be very dark visually. The only way I will be able to watch New Mutants this weekend, over two years after it's original scheduled release date, is to go to the drive-in. I am prepared to do this, although I know my viewing experience will be nowhere near optimal. I know I am going to have a lot of trouble seeing what's going on especially with no audio description. I have no doubt that a big movie like this, especially one that has been on the shelf for so many years, has an audio description track. However there's no way for me to access it at the drive-in. There are two solutions I can think of that the drive-ins and studios can-do to help solve this problem:

  1. Since the audio for the movies comes through the car speakers when you change your radio to a certain station, the drive-ins can have another station for each screen that includes the audio description.

  2. There are certain apps out there that you can download on your phone with certain movies' audio descriptions available in the app. If studios can make these tracks available for movies that are in the drive-in and promote that at the drive-in, you could download the app and listen to the description during the movie. This would solve that problem entirely. (Honestly, doing it this way would solve a lot of problems at normal theaters as well.)

It is very frustrating knowing that this audio description track probably does exist, yet I have no access to it during the movie.It’s especially sad because X-Men movies, more than other superhero films, really speaks to those with disabilities. The themes of all the X-Men films resonate with anyone who is feeling different or left out and for visually impaired to not be able to fully enjoy the new X-Men film is very sad.

Drive-in theaters will most likely only be popular for the remainder of 2020. Hopefully life will go back to normal in 2021.That said, I'm not sure how many drive-ins or studios will see this problem worth solving. However, at this point, I wouldn't even go see Tenet if it were playing at a drive-in because I wouldn't be getting the optimal viewing experience. Adding audio description tracks to apps for your phone would even be beneficial for visually impaired movie fans beyond the drive-in and days of COVID-19.

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