The British Film Institute (BFI) has issued a response to reports that emerged on Twitter yesterday that a cinemagoer with Asperger Syndrome had been ”forcibly removed” from a screening of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly at its Southbank venue on Sunday (April 29).
According to multiple accounts on the social media platform, the woman, who was celebrating her 25th birthday at the event, was removed from the room after several customers complained that she was “laughing very loudly” at the film.
A Twitter user who indentified herself as the woman’s sister said that they were “incredibly angry” at the treatment and called on the BFI to apologise for its handling of the situation.
Another user who said she was the woman’s mother added that she had felt “publically humiliated” by the experience.
Harriet Finney, the BFI’s director of external affairs, said that the organisation was “incredibly sorry to everybody affected” while speaking on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 programme at lunchtime on Monday (April 30).
Finney added that staff had only become aware of the woman’s condition once she had left the cinema. “Even though our staff are trained I think they might have got it wrong in this particular incident,” she added.
She also confirmed that a man who reacted angrily to the woman – with Twitter reports suggesting he used abusive language – was subsequently removed from the cinema.
The BFI also released a statement saying that an investigation into the incident was now underway and that it was reaching out to the customers affected.
“Our priority is for everyone to be able to enjoy our venue and we try hard to provide a good experience to our customers, however yesterday, in what was a challenging and complex situation, we got it wrong,” it continued.
“We can and must do better in accommodating all the needs of our customers and we will be addressing what additional provisions and staff training we can put in place to deal with all situations with sensitivity,” the statement continued.
The BFI’s diversity standards, which govern all decisions made by the organisation, dictate that, as a public funder, the organisation must adhere to guidelines that include the “provision of disability materials & access above and beyond statutory requirements which demonstrate a real commitment to making a venue, festival, event, release etc. accessible to as wide an audience as possible”.
Toki Allison, access officer for the BFI’s Film Audience Network, works on a number of inclusivity initiatives with independent cinemas across the country [though not the BFI’s Southbank cinema] to provide training for cinema staff.
Reacting to yesterday’s incident, she said that she hoped “everyone can learn from this” adding that “there is definitely a lot more being done across the sector”.
As well as making sure cinema staff are properly trained to provide for all manner of cinemagoers, Allison added that it was also key to “broaden awareness in audiences about other people’s needs”.