The BFI Southbank, one of London’s flagship cinemas, has apologised after a woman with Asperger’s was “forcibly dragged” from a film screening for laughing too loudly.
Tamsin Parker’s behaviour prompted complaints from fellow cinema goers during the film, with one alleged to have told her to “shut the fuck up, bitch”, and others applauding when she was removed.
But some audience members were left “shaking with anger” at her treatment. They said when Parker was led out by an usher, she turned to the audience and said: “I’m sorry I have Asperger’s.”
Parker’s sister has since confirmed that she was attending the cinema for her 25th birthday.
Lloyd Shepherd, who was in the auditorium at the time for the screening of the western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, said: “There was a young woman who, when we came in, stood up and turned around and said ‘I’m so excited’ with her hands in the air.
“When an amusing moment in the film came she laughed very loudly and I suppose a little bit longer than everyone else which was a bit startling and that behaviour continued.
“It was a bit odd at first but then it was fine, it was obviously just what she was like.”
In a statement the BFI said it was “sincerely sorry” for the way it handled the incident.
“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,” the BFI said.
The cinema said it was taking the situation seriously, and would be investigating the incident. “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 BFI said the man who swore at Parker was also removed from the screening.
Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “We were shocked to hear that an autistic woman was made to leave a screening at the BFI last night.
“One of my colleagues was at the screening and was so upset by the poor handling of the situation she came to the woman’s aid, along with others who were equally distressed by what they had witnessed.”
She added that it was great to know so many members of the audience were sympathetic. “But this incident goes to show how far we have to go for autistic people to get the understanding they deserve,” she said.
WHAT TO DO IF: You’re Autistic And Going To The Cinema
Tom Purser, Head of Campaigns and Public Engagement at the National Autistic Society, said there are many ways cinemas could better accommodate people with autism.
“Autism-friendly screenings at cinemas tend to be more for children and families so perhaps wouldn’t have been that helpful in this sort of situation,” said Purser. “You can always suggest that your local cinema does an AFA or just finds out more about autism from our website. We have lots of resources as part of our public understanding campaign.”
Training in autism awareness
The Society is focused on “increasing staff understanding” of autism. “They can do this in a number of ways - we can deliver training for all staff or ‘train the trainer’ training so individuals can go on and instruct the rest of the organisation,” said Purser.
If you’re in the cinema with someone who is autistic
“All you really need to do if you’re a non-autistic person in a cinema is not be unpleasant to people – which isn’t too complicated really,” said. Purser
“By and large, the biggest thing autistic people say would make the biggest difference is not judging, people responding with a bit of empathy and a bit of kindness rather than responding with disapproving looks.”