New class ‘Accessible Cinema’ promotes inclusive filmmaking

Including+captions+during+filmmaking+are+one+of+the+topics+covered+in+the+Accessible+Cinema+course.+

Photo: Courtesy of Malic Amalya

Including captions during filmmaking are one of the topics covered in the “Accessible Cinema” course.

By Sophia Pargas

Cinema as we know it is filled with advanced animation, encapsulating sound, and enchanting visual effects, but it tends to forget those who cannot experience these things to their full potential. Filmmaking is often geared towards able-bodied people, and instead needs to become more accessible to those who encounter film in different and untraditional ways.

“Accessible Cinema,” founded by professor Malic Amalya, is a new course which promotes inclusive filmmaking by teaching students about closed captioning and audio descriptions, and will be available for the spring 2022 registration.

The course material will focus on the ability for filmmaking to become more representative of the different audiences who all experience film differently. As a means of doing so, students will learn to incorporate captions and audio descriptions into making films to provide a more accessible film-going experience for the visually and hearing impaired.

“Captions are the written text of the soundscape including dialogue, sound effects, and music. They make movies and videos more accessible for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, as well as a variety of other people who may have an easier time processing written language over audio,” Amalya said. “Audio description is a voiceover that describes the visual and the actions which are positioned in between the dialogue. This makes cinema accessible for people who are blind or have low vision.”

The course will be split into two sections, each providing students with a different understanding of how filmmaking can become more inclusive in both existing films and future ones.

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“In the first section of the course, we are going to take films which have already been created by established filmmakers and students are going to make a captions track and an audio description track,” Amalya said. “In the second half of the course, students will make a new film which incorporates captions and audio descriptions as part of the finished piece.”

Amalya is planning to immerse his students into the world of filmmaking by providing them with real world examples of why and how accessible cinema sho be achieved.

“It’s going to be a really fun class because we’re going to be working with professional filmmakers and have some really great filmmakers that are artists with disabilities,” Amalya said. “There’s going to be really amazing reading about disability justice and about crip theory. It’s really going to be a space of creativity and a great way for folks to have this foundation for their careers.”

The course was created as part of the Presidential Fund for Curricular Innovation, a scholarship which offers grants to faculty to fund new and inventive programs.

Dr. Tuesda Roberts, who serves as Director of Faculty Development and Diversity, worked alongside Dr. Anthony Pinder to choose the recipients of the grant.

“It’s very important that we have programs such as this so that faculty understand that their desires to create anti-oppressive learning environments are valued here at Emerson,” Roberts said. “It’s also important because it provides opportunities for the college to be continually responsive to the realities of the industries. The world is constantly evolving, and the courses offered should reflect that.”

After Amalya proposed his idea for the accessible cinema course, Roberts worked closely with him to see the idea become a reality.

“Professor Malic Amalya is one of the people who was accepted into this year’s cohort,” she said. “We’ve been really excited since reading his application, and even more excited to see how his plans have grown.”

After working on a film set with an actor with a physical disability, Amalya recognized the need for accessible cinema and began to incorporate it within his own projects. Furthermore, he discovered the importance of the next generation of filmmakers having this same knowledge.

“We’re at this moment in film and media where captions and audio descriptions are becoming mandatory,” Amalya said. “These technologies are becoming more accessible for us and they’re also being required of us. As an able-bodied filmmaker, I wasn’t thinking about captions or audio descriptions for many years. I’ve been thinking more about my privilege and the ways that it made it so that I didn’t think about those features until much later.”

While the course is open to any visual media arts major or students who have taken an intro to visual media arts course, Amalya is hoping it will attract students who also have a passion for social justice.

“I think it’s going to be a really exciting class and I’m looking for students who are passionate about accessibility and disability justice to join,” Amalya said. “I’m hoping that even students who don’t have disabilities are excited about learning about accessible cinema and making their films accessible to as large of an audience as possible.”

Amalya has worked to ensure that his students will leave not only with the skills necessary to incorporate closed captioning and audio descriptions into their films, but also with the understanding that not everyone experiences film the same way.

“One thing I appreciate about this accessible cinema course is that Professor Amalya has provided students an opportunity to increase their awareness of how those who have hearing disabilities experience film,” Roberts said. “It’s not just a matter of throwing in some random captions and saying, ‘there, we have proven our accessibility.’ This project is an example of how course learning can teach our future filmmakers how to make sure a broad range of people have access to the experience not as an add-on, but as who they are.”