New Regulation for Movie Theaters Raises Questions

Here’s a small but thought-provoking news bite from last weekend. The Obama administration will soon be issuing a proposal to require most movie theaters to offer technology for the blind and deaf in all their theaters. This technology already exists, and most multiplexes offer it in at least one theater, but it’s not offered in every theater. More from The Hill:

The draft rule, which is part of a decades-long effort by advocates for people with disabilities, would likely require thousands of movie theaters across the country to offer devices that display closed captioning and provide audio narration of what’s happening onscreen.

Disability associations say that the new regulation will make sure that blind and deaf people can appreciate the latest blockbuster just like everyone else.

But theater owners worry that a federal mandate will force small, rural and struggling theaters to close given the costs associated with the rule.

There are real arguments to be made on both sides of this issue, and I find myself a little torn, if I’m going to be honest. As a supporter of equal rights, I would feel awful downright opposing this rule. Now, having your movie choices limited because your local  theater only has this technology for one screen is not exactly akin to being forced to sit in the back of a bus, but it’s the principle of equality that matters. The blind and deaf are already discriminated against in a million ways, and every step we take towards rectifying that situation is worth doing.

However, some cinephiles will find the regulation a bitter pill to swallow if it does indeed create an undue burden on independent, locally-owned theaters and force them to close down. For years, we have loathed the rise of the multiplex and cherished the theaters that managed to stay afloat. I don’t know if it’s true that these small, quirky theaters would really have to close their doors rather than pay for the installation of this new technology – and it sounds suspiciously like the same stubborn logic conservatives use every single time someone proposes any new regulation or tax – but if it is true, it will lead to the further homogenization of movie theaters, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a movie buff anywhere who wants that.


But it should also raise some serious questions about the administration’s motives. As noted previously in this space, Hollywood is the one industry that still uniformly supports the Democratic party. Obama is very tight with Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, for example.  Now, theater chains like Regal and Clearview are not owned by the movie studios, but they have very close relationships with them, and it’s reasonable to assume that Obama would not be opposed to doing a favor for the theater conglomerates as a roundabout way of helping out the studios. The Democrats have certainly helped them out in the past.

I know this is a lot of conjecture, but it’s hard to see the administration going out of their way to help blind and deaf people at the expense of small business owners, unless there was some fringe benefit, right? Once the rule is formally proposed, it will take years for it to be finalized, giving small businesses and movie fans everywhere plenty of time to organize their opposition.

Who’s with me?




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