Tag Archives: Movies

Films About the Disabled Receive 2021 Oscar Nominations

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

WooHoo! Three films featuring people with disabilities got the Oscar nod this year. I was so excited because representation matters. I was able to view two of the three films enjoying them both. The Oscars have been criticized in the pass for its lack of diversity and inclusion but this year I saw progress. The three films are:  Feeling Through, Crip Camp and the Sound of Metal.

Feeling Through

Feeling Through was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film. This 90-minute film is about a homeless teen who meets a deafblind man and how that encounter changes his life. Tereek (Francisco Burgos) is a young man trying hard to keep his homelessness a secret and is desperately looking for a place for the night. While texting friends, hoping he can crash with them, he ends up helping Artie (Robert Tarango), a deafblind man waiting for a bus. Their interaction is complicated. They have differences in abilities, temperaments and ages. However, as Tereek helps Artie navigate a ride home, he learns to see the world through another perspective beyond his own  and broadening his horizons in the process.

I saw this film on YouTube and had

some mix feelings about it. although I enjoyed it because it was available in audio description, featured people of color in a lead role and people with disabilities I struggled a bit with the storyline. Perhaps it was my own uncomfortableness with the vulnerability of Artie being deafblind and depending on others. As a blind person I found it a little unsettling to have to hold up a sign asking for help like that. I began to wonder did this man need some training for the deafblind? How does that work? Those kinds of questions swirled around my head. Depending on the kindness of strangers can be a little unnerving when you have a disability. But in this film, you see it play out and Artie is helped but also taken advantage of which bothered me. Yet, at the end of the day the film shows the challenges of both characters; one obvious and one not so much, which makes me think this is what the film was all about.

Crip Camp

The next film is Crip Camp and it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution follows the birth of the disability rights movement. The film starts in 1971 at Camp Jened, a camp for teens with disabilities and focuses on how those campers become activists in their fight for accessibility legislation.

I saw this film on Netflix and also in audio description. Absolutely loved it! It reminded me of my years working as an advocate at disABILITY LINK, an independent living center. I appreciated the real rawness of the film. They just showed you what it was like to be disabled and how much fun they had at camp. I like the fact the camp gave them the freedom to just be themselves without restrictions. Too many times others who are not disabled want to dictate our movements which can be quite suffocating. Viewing the film, the campers looked like they were having so much fun as any person attending camp should regardless of ability.

The Sound of Metal

The Sound of Metal is the third film and got the most nominations. It was nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Riz Ahmed); Best Supporting Actor (Paul Raci); Writing (Original Screenplay); Film Editing; and Best Sound.  Out of all those nominations It won an Oscar for Best Sound.

The film is about   punk-metal drummer, Ruben’s (Riz Ahmed) journey of losing his hearing. After several one-night gigs, he begins to experience intermittent hearing loss. When a specialist tells him, his condition will rapidly worsen, he thinks his music career and life are over. His bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) check the recovering heroin addict into a secluded sober house for the deaf in hopes it will prevent a relapse and help him learn to adjust. But after being welcomed into a community that is very accepting, Ruben has to choose between his equilibrium and the drive to reclaim the life he once knew.

I have not seen this movie yet because it was released on Amazon Prime but after reading the reviews and summary’s I might have to get a subscription. I can understand why this film got so much Oscar attention. The film sounds like a good one because of the realistic portrayal of a man losing his hearing which directly impacts his career and things he loves. How do you play music without hearing it? I can understand his dilemma. I went through something similar when I went blind and was trying to figure out how to be a journalist. This profession is writing and I can’t see. How does that work? I appreciate the storyline because people need to see how a disability can come into your life at any time. As a matter of fact, most people are not born disabled. So, seeing the journey on the big screen is commendable.

I applaud the Oscars for nominating these films and look forward to more hitting the big screen in the future. It is important that our stories get told, acknowledged and rewarded just like others.

What Does a Shark, ABC and Audio Description Have in Common?

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater

Did my title grab your attention? I sure hope so. Well, now that you are here reading my blog post let me explain what a shark, ABC and audio description have in common.

The Shark Tank

I am a huge, huge. Let me say it one more time. Huge fan of The Shark Tank. This one-hour show allows Entrepreneurs to pitch their small businesses to investors called sharks. The reason I am such a fan is I love the creativity and originality that is displayed on the show. There are such cool consumer products and all types of businesses. The ingenuity showcased is amazing! I also love the negotiating strategy used with the investors. They discuss why their business is worth what it is while the investors explain why they will give the money or not. Sometimes they haggle back and forth even getting a little heated but that is all a part of the show.

Watching The Shark Tank on ABC

I tune in every Friday night at 8pm Eastern Standard Time. On what station? You guessed it. On ABC. Do not call me. Do not text me. Do not ring my doorbell. Do not email me. You will be ignored. Because I am glued to the TV watching my Shark Tank. ABC has been running The Shark Tank for about 11 seasons and I have been watching it faithfully for several years now.

Audio Description of The Shark Tank

Now you understand my love of Shar Tank and watching it on ABC. Now let me explain the audio description part and how that connects. Audio description provides extra verbal narration     of visual elements happening in a TV program or film. It could be hand gestures, facial expressions, physical movements or a description of clothing and action. It describes things that a person with vision loss might not notice or realize. As of July 1, 2018, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Discovery, HGTV, History, TBS, and USA are each required to provide 87.5 hours of audio-described prime time or children’s programming per calendar quarter. As part of those hours, ABC selected The Shar Tank as one of their shows to provide audio description. WhooHoo! So, when I first heard about this a couple of years ago, I was very excited and it just enhanced my viewing pleasure. Now, I am really, really ignoring you on Friday night! When the show first comes on a voice is describing the shark swimming. I would get descriptions of the people coming in to the tank like what they look like, their dress, hair and eye color. Facial expressions would also be described and there is a lot of that going on in the tank as the entrepreneurs react to the investors. Eyes rolling, eyebrows furring, mouth dropping, grim looks or smiling faces. Sometimes if they are doing a demonstration as part of their pitch that would be described as well. Then the money and negotiation amounts would also be described.

Well, several months ago my description fell off, got disconnected or something. Not sure what happen but because I am a huge Shark Tank fan I still kept watching. I knew in the back of my mind I needed to get the description fix. I reached out to my local ABC affiliate, WSB-Atlanta, via email. I got a reply that my concern was being sent over to one of the engineers to investigate. I had to reach out to the close captioning contact for the deaf because there is no direct contact for the blind. This is an issue we talk about in the blind community all the time.  But typically, the close captioning departments are familiar enough and can assist. In my case, I didn’t hear back. So, I tried again. Still no response. I called and left a message with no reply. So, a friend suggested to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and that did the job.  I got a call from the chief engineer and we began to work on the problem.  Over several phone and email conversations it was determined that the audio description signal was not reaching my TV for ABC. I was getting it for all my other stations like NBC, CBS and FOX meaning that it is working properly on my end. I got a sighted friend to come over twice to work with the engineer via phone. But as of this writing we have not found a solution yet. It seems that my TV has a setting separately for each station. Although we set it up for audio description it is still not working.  The engineer and I are persevering and are hopeful that we will come to a resolution soon. But in the meantime, what am I going to do on Friday nights? You guessed it. Keep watching my Shark Tank!

The Audio Description Challenge

Here’s another challenge with audio description but this one is a cool and fun one I think you will enjoy. One of my fellow visually impaired blogging friends, Steph McCoy, loves audio description too. So much so, she helped launch Audio Description Awareness Day last year. She is promoting a challenge at her blog,  Bold Blind Beauty. Here are the details:  On April 16 2021 Bold Blind Beauty presents the Second Annual Audio Description Awareness Day and with it, kicks off the Audio Description Awareness Challenge, hashtag TADAChallenge. Here’s how it goes: Step one, find a friend to watch a TV episode or movie of your choice with audio description. Step two. At the end of the month, post your experience on social media and use the hashtag TADAChallenge which stands for The Audio Description Awareness Challenge.

Being a Vegan is not Just for White Folks Only

The Invisible Vegan: A Movement Toward a New Consciousness poster with a green background and a black stylized fist grasping an orange carrot. In the lower left corner are the list of the featured performers'.

I recently made some changes to my meal plan and have moved more into a plant-based diet. This change surprisingly has not been too hard because fruits and vegetables are my jam. Even before I started working from home, I would take a salad to work just about every day for lunch. It would be filled with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli and even green bell peppers and onions with a sprinkling of chopped nuts. My co-workers would be eyeballing my lunch as I quickly moved out of the break room and back to my office to eat my crunchy rainbow feast. So, when I heard about The Invisible Vegan documentary by Jasmine Leyva I just had to watch it. Now, before I give my two cents let me give you the summary.

Summary of Invisible Vegan Documentary

The documentary begins with the personal story of Jasmine Leyva, a 30-year-old black actress and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles. Over the past seven years, Jasmine has committed herself to veganism, both in lifestyle and research. Taking Leyva’s unhealthy childhood growing up in Washington, DC as a point of departure, the film interweaves her narrative with the professional and personal experiences of a prominent group of vegan activists. The film integrates interviews with popular culture luminaries including Cedric the Entertainer (actor and comedian), John Salley (former NBA player and wellness advocate), and Clayton Gavin (aka Stic of the hip-hop duo Dead Prez).

The Invisible Vegan also explains how plant-based eating is directly linked to African roots and how African-American eating habits have been debased by a chain of oppression.

Africa, Slavery and Soul Food

AS I sat and watched the 90-minute film, I was nodding my head and saying, “Yes, that’s right, that’s right!” Sounding like people in the amen corner at church. She was speaking truth to power and I was not too surprised by nothing coming out of this young lady’s mouth. She started out explaining how a plant-based diet came from Africa and how it is not just for white folks. She ticked off the names of Civil rights activists who are vegetarians like the late Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Dick Gregory. She mentioned Angela Davis too. This was enlightening because I only knew about Dick Gregory as I had read about his diet plan before. He was a firm believer in better health just as much as in civil rights.

She talked about how our enslaved ancestors were forced to eat the scraps on the plantation. How they made meals out of the leftovers. Yes, this is so true. I remember reading the book Roots and many other slave narratives where scenes played out just like this.  Because of this situation Black people passed down this type of eating from generation to generation. It is embedded in our family and culture.  

So, when she started talking about losing the “Black card” I knew exactly what she was talking about. I am nodding my head again. The type of food our ancestors ate on the plantation evolved into what we call today as soul food.  This includes favorites like fried chicken, collard or mustard greens, okra, cornbread, sweet potatoes or yams and blackeyed peas. It also includes some kind of pork product like ham, pig’s feet, hog head cheese and the all-time favorite for many Black folks – chitlins! So, if you are a Black person and don’t eat soul food then you can lose your Black card and be called out. That is not a good situation. Believe me I have been there myself. Not for being a vegan, like Jasmine, but for my efforts in trying to lose weight. Many of these items are not healthy and/or not cooked in a healthy way. So, believe me, I get it. She also talked about how eating soul food is not just the food itself but about a sense of being and belonging. These foods are comforting and connect us to our family, history and legacy in this country. If you don’t think so, go back and watch the classic 1997 movie Soul Food.

Challenges of EatingHealthy

A head shot of Jasmine Leyva with long dark hair, smiling and leaning on one arm in a casual pose. She is wearing a brown and white sleeveless top and a long silver chain around her neck.

With this being said, it is hard for people to change and move to a healthy diet or even become a vegan for that matter. She shared about her journey to become a vegan and the ups and downs of that experience. When it comes to diet and nutrition our doctors are not well equipped to help because they get little education on it when they are in medical school. They are sometimes more apt to write out prescriptions or recommend surgery. I experienced this myself when talking to my PCP and was fortunately referred to a nutritionist.  There I learned about food groups and how food impacts the body. She also talked about food deserts and lack of access to healthy foods. As they say, “No Whole Foods in the hood!”  I could also relate to that too. I have had to get on the bus and travel miles away to find healthier options. And don’t forget about the cost of healthy food! OMG! Why does organic cost twice as much? Crazy! It takes a lot of work and energy to do all of this which I find very stressful at times.  No wonder it is so easy to grab a hamburger at McDonalds. One thing I found interesting and a bit surprising was how meat processing plants are located near minority communities. I didn’t realize that. I mean I knew about how they treat animals, the hormones and the runoff; but not the location.

No Judgement to Become a Vegan

The last thing about the documentary is that it was not judgmental. Jasmine shared her life journey, laid out the facts, and had other people share their experiences. It was not this hard-line approach. She encouraged you to start where you are. I am not ready to go totally vegan but I thought I could do something like meatless Mondays, tofu Tuesdays or salad Saturdays. You know, ease my way into a plant-based lifestyle.

Although this film is not audio described for people like me with vision loss, I still got so much out of it. I encourage you to check it out especially if you are trying to change your eating habits and curious about a vegan lifestyle. The Invisible Vegan is available to watch now on TubiTV and stream on Amazon Prime

Year 2020 is a Wrap!

Fireworks Display

Well, y’all the year 2020 is a wrap! And boy what a year it has been for all of us. Who what have known all the things that happened this year? Wild fires, hurricanes and floods, police brutality, racial tension, distressing elections and of course the big kahuna COVID-19.  I struggle sometimes just to remember what happened last week with so much going on! I am not going to sit here and write one of those top-10-year-in-review type blog posts because you can easily go online and read that already. But what I am going to do is make a meager effort to do a mini recap of some of the things I blogged about here on Triple E.

I started this blog in January of this year and I was able to successfully write a blog post on a regular basis. My goal was to write a post weekly. I didn’t quite make it but I came very close with 50 published posts and with 52 weeks in a year that is not bad! Actually, that is a major accomplishment with all the craziness going on, managing this blog on my own and having a visual disability. So, I am going to pat myself on the back for this one! Woohoo!

Empish and the Author, Noel Holston at Library Book Signing

One of my first post focused on reading and books. I attended a book signing at the library about a man who experience deafness. I was so taken by his story I not only went to the signing, chatted and took a photo with him afterward, but wrote a book review called Life After Deaf. This one post led me to write many more during the year on this topic of books and the devices I use to enjoy them.  I even connected Black History Month with a book I read on Haban Girma who was the first deafblind black woman to graduate From Harvard. One cool thing about blogging is that you can revise, revamp and reprint old post from the past. I did that a couple of times but noted it specifically when I reposted a review on the March Trilogy by Congressman John Lewis to honor him when he died this year.

Empish at concession purchasing popcorn and other snacks.

Besides my love for books and reading, watching movies runs a close second. Before the coronavirus caused the theaters to shut down, I would go to the movies a couple of times a week. But all of that changed in mid-March and I settled for watching movies at home only. Even when my AMC theater reopened, I decided to not go back and I shared why in a post.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

I have been able to watch movies at home thanks to accessible technology. I wrote several posts this year on how important  this is from being my own tech support to the anniversaries of the ADA and GAAD.

 

The biggest technology change for me this year has been using Zoom videoconferencing. Prior to the coronavirus I used Zoom for one of my monthly book clubs but my usage increased tremendously. This year I started using Zoom for telemedical appointments, exercise classes, socializing and volunteering. I have been Zooming all over the place this year! Unfortunately, all my technology experiences were not positive and I hit some major road blocks. I struggled with depositing paper checks with my bank’s mobile app and my advocacy efforts didn’t provide any relief. I aired out my frustrations here on Triple E. Although I didn’t get a satisfactory resolution from the bank, I was able to from the issuer of the checks.

I felt okay about that and I realized during this COVID-19 crisis that my mental and physical health were more important than ever before.  I wrote about managing my anxiety,  exercising and strengthening my body at home, maintaining good eyecare, wrestling with my lack of sleep, and grieving during a pandemic. Due to all that was happening I made more efforts to keep a positive attitude and pursue happiness in the small things.

Empish Working in Home Office

Now it is time to say goodbye to year 2020. To let go of all that transpired this year and look ahead to the new year. I am excited about the possibilities of what this next year will bring. I have set more goals for Triple E. Writing more interesting stories about blindness and visual impairment. More reviews on books that I have read.  More of my views on current topics, technology and much, much more. So, stay tuned! I look forward to the journey and you coming with me. Let us all have a Happy New Year!

My Traditional Nontraditional Christmas

A Christmas wreath with a red and green plaid bow, red berries, pine cones and three different kinds of greenery.

I know many people are having a hard time this year because they won’t be able to have that

traditional Christmas with their families. The coronavirus has turned our world upside down and many of us are still practicing social distancing, sheltering in place and wearing a facemask. That also means no traveling home for Christmas to see our love ones or having to celebrate with a very small gathering. Well, for me Christmas has not been one of those traditional type holidays. I don’t typically decorate with a tree, lights and all the fixings. I don’t send out Christmas cards anymore. I don’t do Christmas shopping for presents. Now don’t get me wrong I am not a Grinch. I do love and enjoy the holiday season. I am just not beholden to it. For me it has become a traditional non-traditional holiday. Depending on the year and the mood I am in, I will attend a Christmas theatre production, watch an audio described Christmas movie or play Christmas music. I also might even cook a small holiday dinner if I am so inclined. So, with coronavirus shutting us down for the holidays, I don’t have the same emotions around it that some might.

I think my lax attitude about Christmas might have come from my childhood. As a family we had traditions but they never seem deal breakers if we didn’t do them. I remember when I was small every year, we put up this all-white artificial Christmas tree with bright, red shiny bulbs. Then we moved on up like the Jefferson’s and got real pine Christmas trees. My dad insisted on it and I never saw an artificial tree again until I was grown. We did the traditional holiday dinner   but dad did the bulk of the cooking. He would smoke some kind of meet like chicken, turkey or a ham while making mac and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato pies. Mom would chip in baking a cake with pecans on the top. The kitchen would be buzzing Christmas Eve as we listened to R&B Christmas songs on the radio and nibbled on Hickory Farms smoke sausages and cheese logs.

Sometimes we   would travel to Alabama to visit my grandparents but mostly we stayed at home. As I got older and moved away, I was the one doing the traveling back to Texas and it would depend on Christmas or Thanksgiving. I couldn’t do both holidays since they were too close together with the expense and taking time off from work. Some years I did neither. Additionally, I had to incorporate my disability and the complexities that came with it. So those years, I established some of my own traditions like mailing out festive Christmas cards, playing holiday music and preparing a dinner.

A dining table set with 5 place settings, crystal, and candles
A Christmas table setting

After dad died in 1996, mom got artificial trees again but the dinner menu stayed pretty much the same although cooked by others. By that time, we were not particular as we were just glad to be together as a family and the food was secondary.  We would watch TV laughing and talking while snacking on the three-flavor holiday popcorn tin. Or responding to the ringing phone as relatives from Alabama called to chat, gossip and give Christmas greetings.

This year with the coronavirus I am not traveling and that is not so unusual. But I am doing some nontraditional things all the same. To brighten the holiday up for me I decided to mix things up a bit and do some new things. In the past I was such a Scrooge when it came to Christmas movies. I thought they were so cheesy, unrealistic and sappy that I would barely watch them. Well, I have changed my tune and thanks to Netflix and audio description I have been watching quite a few. They actually have been very enjoyable and have kept my mental state balanced and positive right now. I also decided to cook some nontraditional foods this year. No turkey, ham, collard greens, etc. At first, I was going to do Mexican but changed my mine. I decided to do some chicken in the air frier with cabbage. Then make some homemade mac and cheese and vanilla pudding. I have been looking at recipes online and excited about trying new things and expanding myself. I even purchase a set of no-salt seasonings with some new ones I am curious about trying. This pandemic has pushed me to stretch myself and step out and not do the same old same old. Traditions are good but trying new things are even better.

So, what traditions are you keeping for the holidays?  Has this pandemic caused you to make some changes in your celebration? Or are you like me and will have a traditional non-traditional Christmas?

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

Enjoyed Three Evenings of Diverse Shorts at the Virtual Superfest Disability Film Festival

The true story of a bi-polar American white woman who joins the circus in Vietnam. A young woman who has Cerebral Palsy and a sexworker share an unusual story of love which challenges social norms. An unemployed disabled actress takes a job advising a film star on how to be disabled for his latest role. An eager to please doll in a wheelchair is placed in the perfect world of the self-absorbed, and must find a way to fit in or be thrown away. A Black woman who uses a wheelchair and wants to be an actress learns that accessibility isn’t just about physical space. These are summaries of some of the short films I saw during the Superfest Disability Film Festival a couple of weeks ago. The 15 pictures featured were written, produced and/or directed by people with disabilities and included actors with disabilities as well.

I watched 1 feature and 14 short films in audio description virtually from the comfort of my home on my computer. In the past the festival was held in the San Francisco Bay area but because of the pandemic they opted to show everything via Zoom. So being the movie lover that I am I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by and especially over a weekend.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

According to their website, Superfest Disability Film Festival is the longest running disability film festival in the world. Since it first debuted in a small Los Angeles showcase in 1970 it has become an eagerly anticipated international event—hosted by San Francisco’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. For more than 30 years, Superfest has celebrated cutting-edge cinema that portrays disability through a diverse, complex, unabashed and engaging lens. Superfest is one of the few festivals worldwide that is accessible to disabled filmgoers of all kinds.

I enjoyed the variety of films because of its diversity not just in subject matter but because they were produced overseas. I have long been interested in foreign films but because of subtitles can’t always view and enjoy them. Yet this time I was able too; seeing films from Japan, France, Italy, Finland and England. I appreciated universal story lines, complex characters and dealing with relatable issues which shows that people with disabilities are exactly that-people. The films didn’t shy away from real topics such as race, relationships, sex, employment, connection and community, rejection, isolation, illness, joy and happiness. These are all things that people can identify with every day.

The other part of the festival was the round table discussion. During the 3-day event there was a panel of people discussing the films, the production and writing process. I also enjoyed this part of the festival because it gave me insight into the world of film making. I learned a little about what happens behind the scenes, what took place to bring these films to the festival and even more so during a pandemic.

As in any large event it takes a lot of work to put all the pieces in place. There were a few hiccups and glitches along the way but I was impressed with how the organizers got things quickly back in place and moving again. As they say in the bus, “The show must go on!” And it did. I will definitely attend this festival again if hosted virtually. It was an enjoyable experience.

AMC Movie Theaters Reopened During Pandemic but I’m Staying Home

Empish at concession purchasing popcorn and other snacks.

On August 20th AMC Theaters finally reopened for movie goers. I got an email update about it explaining the process and how excited they were to offer both new releases and old classics to their customers. They also went into great detail to clarify their Clorox cleaning process, various concession changes,  facemask requirements and how they would operate at 40% seating capacity  or less for social distancing.  Additionally, When I swiped across my phone app, I noticed that they were offering me my belated birthday popcorn, soda and a $10 bonus gift card. I am a major movie lover and an AMC Stubs A-List member meaning that I get to watch 3 movies a week for a set monthly fee. While they were closed, my membership was placed on hold. Although all of these procedures and perks sounded great, wonderful and even somewhat enticing; I have decided for the time to not venture back inside of a movie theater.

The major reason is I just don’t feel that it is safe yet with the coronavirus still on the rampage especially with high numbers in Georgia. Our numbers of cases are not showing a major decrease yet and that deeply concerns me when going outside and socializing. Right now I have just been going out for those basic necessities of life like groceries, medical  and hair appointments. I have not been meeting with friends, dining out at restaurants or traveling to visit family.

Even though AMC is requiring a facemask, except when not eating, I wonder how they will enforce that. I have been to places like the grocery store and even on the bus were a facemask is required but people still don’t wear one. That too concerns me. I am thinking once people get into the actual theater room, the lights go down and the movie starts those facemasks are going to come off. I seriously doubt that the theater will have staff to patrol rooms looking for people who are not wearing a mask or even enforcing it.

The other piece of the facemask dilemma is wearing it for long periods of time. There are no AMC theaters close to my home on public transportation that I can easily get to; so, I have to travel a long distance. That means riding the bus for at least 90 minutes with a facemask. Then when I get to the theater watching a movie that typically is 2 hours long wearing a facemask. Then getting back on the bus to repeat the process. That is a lot of hours with something on my face just to watch a movie! It would be something different if I was going to work but this is entertainment and not essential.

So, I will just be patient. I will wait until the numbers go down. I will wait until there is solid medical treatment like a vaccine available. In the meantime, I will read my movie blogs, newsletters and emails to stay current. I will continue to watch films on Netflix, PBS Video, iTunes; and recently added to my list Disney+. Until things get better my well-vented, air conditioned home and comfy sofa will continue to be my movie theater. What’s your game plan? Now that the theaters are back open do you plan to visit or, like me, stay home?

Watching 2020 Oscar Winner Parasite with Subtitles in Audio Description

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater

Last week I finally got to see the 2020 Oscar winner Parasite. The Audio Description Project streamed a copy of it during the American Council of the Blind’s annual convention. This film is about the wealthy Park family as their lives are slowly infiltrated by the poor Kim family. They deceive their gullible counterparts into giving them jobs in their home but it has disastrous results for both families. I was very excited about it because when the movie came out last year it caused quite a stir. I had tried to see it then but couldn’t because I don’t understand the Korean language. The movie was available with English sub titles but I couldn’t see them at the bottom of the screen so that didn’t work either. When I went to the theater and couldn’t watch it, I was pretty bummed out. Then when it won an Oscar in multiple categories my feelings were mixed; and I shared about it in a previous post.

Challenges Watching Parasite in Audio Description

So, now here we are and I have seen the film and understand all the hype and buzz. It was an excellent movie and I enjoyed it.  But I did have some challenges when it came to the audio description I want to talk about.   This is not the first movie I have watched where sub titles and audio description come together and I will share more about that in a minute. But I think what was hard for me in this particular movie were a couple of things:

1.  audio description is used to give info between the dialogue of a movie. It is used to share visual elements but when you are using audio description to read the sub titles some of that is lost. So, there were times in this movie where I got lost trying to figure out the scene and what was happening because the describer was speaking the dialogue of the characters the majority of the time.

2. This type of audio description caused me to also get the characters a little confused. I noticed that especially with the male characters. there were a couple of scenes where I couldn’t figure out who was who. There was not enough distinction in their voices for me to know the differences.

3.  Since the audio description was talking on top of the dialogue instead of between the dialogue, I had to work harder to not get distracted and to focus and pay closer attention. Again, audio description is when information is spoken between the dialogue but since this was a foreign film with sub titles the audio description was speaking that too.

Other Movies with Sub Titles in Audio Description

Now with that last point being said this is not the first film I have seen this way. I have actually seen about 4 films with audio described sub titles. Two were at the movie theater and two were at home. I liked all of them. But I think the differences were that there were sprinklings of English and more spacing out between dialogue so making more room to describe scenes and other things. Here are those movies with a brief summary from Netflix.

1.  The Farewell– After learning that her family’s beloved matriarch, Nai Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi returns to Changchun to find that her family has decided to keep the news from Nai Nai. While the family gathers under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, Billi rediscovers the country she left as a child, and is forever changed by her grandmother’s wondrous spirit.

2.  The Warrior: Queen of Jhansi– Lakshmibai, the legendary Queen of Jhansi, gets her due in this moving docudrama. Leading her people into battle against the British East India Company — and by extension, colonial rule — in 1857, she becomes known as the Joan of Arc of the East.

3.  Never Look Away– In this absorbing drama based loosely on the life of visual artist Gerhard Richter, an art student trying to get past the trauma of growing up in Nazi Germany falls for a fellow student. But her father — an ex-Nazi — is bent on keeping them apart.

4.  Everybody Knows– Laura and her children travel from Buenos Aires to the small Spanish village where she was born to attend her sister’s wedding. Unexpected events soon lead to a crisis that exposes the family’s hidden past. Suspicions mount, loved ones begin to turn on one another, and dark secrets long hidden threaten to come to light, revealing shocking truths.

One major thing I have had to do to enhance my enjoyment of these films is do my homework. completing some simple research online beforehand and especially afterward has helped me to enjoy and understand these films. My hope is that as time goes on more and more foreign films will offer sub titles with audio description in English. That the description that is provided will progress so that all of us can have a pleasurable movie experience.

Watching Movies at Home During COVID-19

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

This weekend I would normally be out of the house watching a movie at my local movie theater. I would have already checked the listing of new releases earlier in the week and started making plans. I would have gone online reading the reviews and ratings on the films I wanted to see. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic I am at home.    The theaters are closed until further notice and I am watching more movies at home than ever before.

Prior to COVID-19 I would watch movies occasionally through streaming and mostly on DVD. My primary place to do this is Netflix. I have been a subscriber for many years and used it as a backup to going to the actual movie theater. If I missed a movie or wanted to watch it again, I would rent the DVD and catch it at home. In the last year or so I upgraded my subscription and added streaming.  On my iPhone I can watch all kinds of movies from miniseries, classics, blockbusters and Netflix’s own original content. the thing I love the most is that a lot of Netflix content is accessible to the blind and a large amount of their movies are available in audio description.

Let me explain what I mean by that. When it comes to the DVD’s I can go to the Netflix website and check for audio description. Movies are usually labeled under the details section with the verbiage “video description English” or descriptive audio” or some similar terminology. Not all movies on Netflix are available in audio description. If it is something I still want to see I will do some research beforehand so when I do watch it, I understand what is happening.  Now, the tricky part of watching a movie on DVD in audio description is that I have to get sighted help.  The audio description track is inside of the menu options and is displayed on the TV monitor which of course I can’t see. To remedy this, I use an app called Be my Eyes that uses sighted volunteers via my iPhone’s camera. The volunteer will see my TV monitor and direct me through the menus to turn on the audio description for the movie. So, what I do is hold my phone in one hand with the camera facing the TV while in the other hand I hold my DVD remote to press the buttons for the menu options. You might be saying, “That seems like a lot of work just to watch a movie!” And I would say, “You are right!” But I love movies and so I do the work. I am also sharing this with you so that you understand what the blind community has to deal with just to do things that sighted people take for granted every day.

Now, streaming is a bit easier to manage. Through my iPhone I have audio speech settings turned on and when I launch the Netflix app audio description will automatically play if that is available for that particular movie. Again, Netflix will indicate on their website if the movie is available in audio description. Additionally, I can get a listing of  audio described titles from the Audio Description Project. each week the site provides an updated list of titles along with a listing in alphebetical order of movies available. I place those movies on my play list and watch when I get ready.

because of these two options I have the ease of curling up on my sofa, laying in my bed or relaxing in my recliner to watch a movie at home whenever I want. But today it seems that having Netflix is not just a luxury but a necessity to keep me entertained since I can’t go out.

Audio Described Movies and the Oscars

Empish at concession purchasing popcorn and other snacks.
Empish at Concession Stand

Besides diving into a great book another of my favorite pastimes is watching an audio described movie. If you are not familiar an audio describe movie provides extra verbal narration     of visual elements happening in the film. It could be hand gestures, facial expressions, physical movements or a description of clothing and action happening in the movie. It describes things that a person with vision loss might not notice or realize. A fast-pace action, suspense thriller, a funny comedy, a classic animation, a gory horror or a sappy romcom—I love them all! But the funny thing is that I didn’t really get into movies until I went blind and couldn’t see the screen. Go figure!  Then I really, really didn’t get into movies until audio description became readily available. Many years ago, I rented a couple through the GLASS Atlanta Library; but regrettably I found the selection very limited and quickly lost interest. Today that has changed because audio described movies have increased in availability with the law and demand.

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have curled up on the sofa, got under my fluffy cat blanket, grabbed my microwaved popcorn and watched a Netflix movie with audio description. It has been too many times to count. Audio description is not only available from Netflix, there is Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney +, iTunes and more.   In addition, local TV stations like ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX provide some audio described content. The cable and satellite companies have it too; but I cut the cord a while back so can’t comment too much on that.

In addition to watching audio described movies at home, I watch them at my local movie theater. The two major movie chains in my city, Regal Cinema and AMC Theatres, both offer most blockbusters and current films in audio description. When I go to the theatre, I request the device for the blind. It will be a headset attached to a small box with a little lever on the side for volume. There are also close captioning devices for the deaf and the hard of hearing. A couple of times I was given the device for the hard of hearing, which looks similar but is not attached to the small box for the volume control. Depending on the theatre you go to, you might have to do a little education with the theater staff and take time to explain exactly what you need.

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater
Empish Using Audio Described Headset

The description makes a huge difference if I can enjoy the movie or not.  I have been faithfully watching audio described movies since 2014 and know that without it I will miss critical and key information. This impacts my ability to get the fullness of the film. There have been times when I have fudged my way through a movie only to talk to a sighted person later and find out I was dead wrong about a particular scene. And just forget about foreign films with English subtitles scrolling at the bottom. Sorry I can’t see enough to read them and I just understand English! LOL! No way to work my way through those movies.

Now we have come to the Oscars. I was sitting on my sofa, with my fluffy cat blanket but no popcorn this time. I was glued to the screen listening to those all too familiar words, “…and the winner is…” The majority of the Oscar winners in various categories had audio description; which is fabulous!

But the winner for best picture, parasite, was not an audio described movie. I had tried to see the film at my local theater only to notice that my device was not working. I later discovered that the distributor didn’t provide audio description. Unfortunately, this is what happens to some of the great films I would like to see. Not all movies are available to the blind community yet. I have mixed feelings about this Oscar winner and I struggled to even talk about it here on my blog because this movie made history. Parasite, a Korean-language film, won for best film, best director, best international film and best original screenplay. This is an amazing accomplishment and a positive step toward diversity and inclusion. Although It is not the Academy’s fault the movie was not accessible; people like me were left out. If you had a visual impairment you could not enjoy this film like everyone else.

But on a more positive note, since the Oscars came earlier than usual this year, several of these films, and as of this writing, are still in theaters and not on DVD or streaming yet. This means you can still catch them at the movie theater. So, grab some popcorn and get ready to enjoy a great audio describe movie!