Reid My Mind Radio: On Black Panther Audio Description – Race, Selection & Time

More on Black Panther? Well, yes, sort of! It’s really a good movie that raises some issues about Audio Description that need to be a part of AD conversations. In fact, these issues go further and touch on so called race and disability. I thought I’d begin here… Plus some suggestions as to how we can enhance the Audio Description improving the movie experience for Blind movie goers.

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Transcript

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TR:

What’s up RMMFamily!

It’s been a while since I felt the need to share some thoughts on my mind.

So here I go!

What you’re hearing is a scene from this year’s record breaking super hero movie from Marvel Studios, Black Panther.

I enjoy a super hero movie like everyone else , I’m just not one to get all fan boy about it before actually seeing the movie. I do enjoy the build up to the premier and the anticipation from those more passionate about the character and genre.

Black panther was a little different for me. It was pretty difficult to open my Twitter app and not read something about the movie. Whether television, radio or podcasts and all other media, Black Panther was a trending topic.

We planned to see the movie as a family either during the first week or soon thereafter. Unfortunately, my back problems forced us to alter our
plans.

Audio: “Doctor Says I need a backiotomy!” Dave Chappelle, “Half Baked”

Over the past few years, as Audio Description has increasingly been included in major movie releases (at least most that I’ve been interested in seeing) I find myself assuming that movies will be accessible for me.

Rather than questioning if it’s going to be included, Marvel’s Black Panther led me to be more concerned with the quality of the Audio Description or AD. To some extent we can probably consider that progress. However, improving the quality is a major part of moving to an experience closer to that of a sighted movie viewer.

My issues with Black Panther’s Audio Description begin with their choice of narrator and those scenes and elements included in the description. I propose we should think about description outside of the limitations set forward by movie’s start and end time.

The AD included in Black Panther was in my opinion lacking from the beginning.

One of the reasons I was excited to see this movie is because of the predominantly Black cast. The movie mostly takes place in the fictional African nation of Wakonda. This relatively small nation appearing to the outside world to be underdeveloped was actually the most technically advanced nation on the planet. Home to vibranium which absorbs sound waves and other vibrations, including kinetic energy making it the strongest metal.

Now, yes, this is a fictional movie, but for African Americans it represented the chance to see characters that display the people and culture in a positive light on screen. Finally getting a break from the roles of thugs, domestic, the white persons best friend who’s only existence appears to be to aid the friend and the sassy Black woman. And when it comes to movies taking place in the future – we’re more than often just written out completely.

Hollywood just has a problem with representation in general outside of your able bodied white male.

For many Black Panther lived up to the hype and fulfilled the void of not seeing positive representations of people of African descent. The vibe of this movie was unapologetically Black.

For those of us watching with Audio Description, well the vibe wasn’t the same. Trying to remain in the dream nation of Wakanda was impossible when we’re being shaken awake by the narrator who by all accounts was a British White man.

Does this mean, white people shouldn’t be allowed to narrate movies with predominantly Black casts? It’s really probably more like the reverse, should narrators of color be able to narrate stories outside of their culture. Of course.

However, when the movie is so deeply associated with a culture – I think it makes sense to extend that to the audio description.

Concise and informative description is even more imperative in fictional movies such as Black Panther. Often, the technology, architecture and possibly fashion is unique to the fictional location.

So much of these things were left out of the movie, forcing blind viewers to ask for input from others. For example, the description of the city itself being described something like a mix between modern and ancient… My view of ancient or modern may be different from another person’s. It seems too subjective.
In fact, someone who has never seen modern may not get much imagery at all from that statement.

There were several other things that I learned of only from having conversations with friends and family following the movie. Some of these things I thought really helped tell the story of the people and culture of Wakanda hence the story of Black Panther.

Now maybe this seems weird to you, but I was annoyed that a decision was made to not read the credits. This is especially relevant in a Marvel movie. Those familiar with these movies know not to leave until the credits are done because Marvel includes a scene or two that’s relevant to the telling of the next story in the series – somewhat of a preview or sneak peek. I personally enjoy hearing the names of the actors in the cast and sometimes enjoy hearing the many names of those involved in the production. Without this access I’m forced to ask who ever I’m with to read or look for a certain cast member. That usually feels like too much to ask someone.

— Close —

Looking at movie making as a process you can sort of neatly put things into categories or phases.

This includes everything from the idea to the creation including pre production to post production. Writing, casting, filming, editing and distribution.

Right now the Audio Description as far as I can tell takes place right before that last distribution phase.

Movie studios contract with companies specializing in Audio Description. Many of these companies also specialize in closed captioning as well and possibly language translations.

When we talk about access to technology; software, hardware, apps & websites the goal is access from the design phase. Shouldn’t we want the same from Audio Description?

Movies, televisions programs, documentaries, theater plays..any visual medium are really works of art. Someone has a vision. With movies and television , it’s the Director who is in charge of what the consumer sees. He/She is setting up and or approving camera placement, lighting and everything involved with the final images. They’re telling the story. That’s what the consumer sees.

Audio Description being written by a third party is now including a new vision. One that to my knowledge doesn’t include any real consultation with the Director.

There are certain scenes that are designed and purposely shot in a specific way to evoke an emotion, convey some sort of meaning.

With the limitations currently in place in creating an Audio description track for a movie, most notably making use of the silent time in between the dialog, things are going to get left out. The choices made by the AD production companies may not be the same as those of the Director.

Are we really limited to just the hour and a half or two hours from the movie’s start to end?

I’ve attended live plays which begin the description early.

Blind users were invited to the theater 45 minutes to an hour earlier than the general audience. This gave us time in some instances to explore the stage and set, costumers and even become familiar with the voices of the different actors.

Currently, Audio Description doesn’t begin until the movie starts. It seems like a track could be created and either streamed prior to the movie and even be made available for listening before arriving to the theater. In the case of Black Panther a more comprehensive description of the country could have been written including their technology and more without spoiling the movie.

It could also help to have some audio streaming through the device to assure its working before the movie begins. All too often when going to a movie with my wife, as the movie began I would realize there was no description coming through the headphones. My wife would run out of the theater to find a manager in order to get it fixed.

Going back to my comparison with access to technology, from an advocacy perspective many of us have written directly to developers of software, websites and apps. At the very least, these individuals become informed about the need for access. I often wonder if director’s, screen writers, producers and others in the early Pre production phase are aware of Audio Description.

In 2016 I had the opportunity to speak with Peter Middleton, one of the directors of a film featured on Reid My Mind Radio; Notes on Blindness. The film which is sort of a documentary with reenactments of actual events lip synced to the recordings of real audio captured by Theologian, John Hull using a cassette recorder. Mr. Hull kept very detailed recordings of his experience and thoughts as his vision faded beginning in 1983

There were multiple versions of the film released including one with Audio Description and the other with what they referred to as enhanced audio. This was an experiment of sorts that used additional dialog and more audio as queues to help viewers who are blind have a more inclusive experience of the film without the need for Audio Description or negatively impacting the experience for sighted viewers.

Creative people when facing a challenge step up and figure out ways to best communicate their vision.

From everything I’ve read and watched online about Ryan Coogler, the Director of Black Panther, I think he would have been the best person to write or at least lead the process of creating AD for the movie. He was involved in every aspect of this movie from choosing an African dialect from the South African region to use as the language spoken in the fictional country of Wakanda to the look and feel of their technical innovations.

Should consumers of AD be pushing for a change in where the description takes place in the movie life-cycle?

Should AD companies be teaming up with writers in an earlier phase along the production timeline?

Should movie writers strive to include more descriptive dialog that enables a blind movie goer to independently enjoy the movie?

Could directors and others like sound designers take blind movie goers into consideration and use a combination of all their tools to better improve the movie experience?

Could consumers have more control of their AD by using apps like Actiview (also profiled on Reid My Mind Radio) – helping to eliminate the problems of uninformed theater workers who are now responsible for making sure they give out and properly configure the right device.

I’m hoping those in the Audio Description field in combination with blind consumers, are thinking about these things that I believe will greatly improve the Audio Description experience.

I’m very appreciative of the improvements made to enable access across all media. I was a pretty big movie watcher before losing my sight and I really enjoy continuing this as part of my life. It helps maintain relationships, start new ones through conversations around a shared experience and if it’s a good movie, it allows for new thoughts or even escape and just good entertainment. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

On the subject of thought provoking content or entertainment, you should subscribe to this podcast hopefully for at least one of those things.

It’s easy to do using any podcast app. We’re on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio and you can always head over to ReidMyMind.com that’s R E I D, where you can listen, read the transcript and access episode resources.

I’m T.Reid and I thank you for listening!

Peace!

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2 Responses to “Reid My Mind Radio: On Black Panther Audio Description – Race, Selection & Time”

  1. Katie Murphy says:

    I do freelance audio description work, and you really articulated so many of the concerns I have about the industry and my own work. From one second to the next, this episode put so many compelling arguments and observations into my brain that I had to write a blog post to sort through them (https://disarts.org/an-audio-describer-responds-to-on-black-panther-audio-description-race-selection-time/). I’m afraid it’s nowhere near as concise and thought-provoking as this episode.

    Thank you for creating such an amazing podcast!

  2. T.Reid says:

    Hello Katie:
    Thank you for reading and continuing the discussion. It’s good to know that there are those like yourself who understand the importance of hearing from the consumers. I appreciate your kind words about the podcast and am honored that it struck you enough to write a post. I hope you continue to listen as I will definitely follow your blog.

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