Every few years, news comes out of audience members walking out of movies during film festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival or the Venice Film Festival, for example. This year, Marlee Matlin was one of three jury members who left a Sundance screening of Magazine Dreams—and for a very good reason.
Matlin, playwright Jeremy O. Harris, and screenwriter Eliza Hittman walked out of a showing of Magazine Dreams, a drama that was being shown at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Their reason? The captioning device used by the festival was malfunctioning, leaving Matlin unable to fully experience the movie.
Matlin has been deaf since she was 18 months old and has won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and four Emmys during her successful acting career. The actress is serving as a jury member for Sundance this year and was frustrated when she was given a captioning device that didn’t work.
Following the walk-out, Matlin, Harris, and Hittman sent a letter to filmmakers at Sundance, writing, “The U.S. independent cinema movement began as a way to make film accessible to everyone, not just those with the most privileges among us. As a jury our ability to celebrate the work that all of you have put into making these films has been disrupted by the fact that they are not accessible to all three of us.” They requested that screenings include open-captioning packages in order to afford all jurors and viewers the ability to fully experience the movie.
Matlin has been a major advocate for the deaf community throughout her career, successfully petitioning the Academy of Arts and Sciences to add subtitles to its awards screeners, as well as pushing the White House to provide onscreen sign language interpreters at press conferences.
The trio’s letter had the impact they wanted; Sundance CEO Joana Vicente replied to the letter, saying that the festival’s goal is to make all movies “as accessible as possible for all participants.”
“Our accessibility efforts are, admittedly, always evolving and feedback helps drive it forward for the community as a whole,” Vicente continued. She did point out that the captioning device worked “without malfunction” at other screenings.
Most might assume that people who walk out of movie screenings are simply being dramatic, but Matlin, Harris, and Hittman’s protest was much needed. Let’s hope that this statement will move accessibility in movies forward in the coming years.