Imagine that you are going to watch a movie. Probably, you are using public facilities like a theater and enjoying the movie without great difficulty, but that is not the case for everyone. In fact, some people have difficulty going to the theater to enjoy movies because of physical handicaps, age, or something else. As people have begun realizing the problem, an argument has spread widely: we should remove physical and psychological obstacles so that everyone can enjoy the movie experience, regardless of disability, age, etc. This concept is called the barrier-free movement.
The term first appeared in architecture in 1974. In architecture, it focused on removing physical barriers. To guarantee mobility and accessibility, elevators and ramps were installed instead of stairs for the physically handicapped. Raised blocks also were installed for the visually impaired. It began to be applied gradually to other areas including design.
The concept was also applied to movies, and barrier-free films have appeared. Barrier-free films provide subtitles or dubbing. Subtitles serve not only to display the dialogues between actors, but also explanations of the soundtrack’s mood or sound effects for people who have trouble hearing. Dubbing plays a similar role. It explains the scene, the actor’s facial expressions, and visual effects for the visually impaired. Subtitles and dubbing help everyone understand the movie.
A good example is the movie DongJu: The Portrait of A Poet. The above picture is a scene in which Yoon Dong-ju was investigated by the Japanese military police. When the Japanese military police threw documents, there was a bang sound. Yoon Dong-ju was surprised and looked at him. If there weren’t subtitles that explained the sound effect, someone might have trouble understanding the scene or concentrating on the movie.
Such explanations create opportunities for the disabled to enjoy movies more. However, there are problems around this idea of barrier-free films. First of all, disabled people have difficulty accessing barrier-free content. Barrier-free films were hardly shown because the number of newly released barrier-free films is quite low. According to research, there are only 29 barrier-free films among 1627 movies released from January to November in 2017 in Korea. Thus, the disabled are limited in their movie choices. The number of screening times is also a problem. Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, which recorded an audience of over 12 million, was playing only 59 times at the multiplex in a barrier-free version throughout the nation based on screening information from the Korea Association of the Deaf. Most theaters decided to show the barrier-free version just one time.
The reason for so few screening times is that the multiplex offered the films only in an open screening system. The open system supplied subtitles and commentaries together. Non-disabled movie goers do not need those functions. Therefore, they don’t want to purchase tickets for barrier-free films. The multiplexes have not gotten organized around this issue because it is not profitable. They can introduce a closed screening system using auxiliary devices, but they are delaying introducing the system on account of the lack of standards and lack of a base for assistive devices.
Meanwhile, the disabled won the lawsuit which they had brought for demanding audio services and subtitles against multiplexes. The court decided that not providing accessibility for disabled people to watch movies equally with non-disabled people is ‘indirect discrimination’ which is prohibited by the Disability Discrimination Act. This lawsuit was ruled upon two years ago, but not much has improved. Other relevant laws still do not exist.
The Korea Blind Union said that improving the viewing environment for the disabled starts with a variety of content. It also said that since making a barrier-free version is required in advance from the production stage, we need to consider stipulating and applying mandatory production of content.