Disney Studios, Epilepsy Foundation warn consumers about Star Wars flash

Screen grab from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Disney Studios released Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker last month, already aware that the movie includes flashing images that could trigger seizures. In a letter sent to theaters two weeks before the film premiered, Disney stated it “contains several sequences with imagery and sustained flashing lights that may affect those who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy or have other photosensitivities.” The letter requested that theaters post this seizure notice at their box offices and online.

To alert the epilepsy community, Disney also approached the Epilepsy Foundation, which issued a news release with the seizure advisory and a few recommendations for seizure prevention. The studio’s preemptive effort shows progress on addressing seizure triggers in their movies. In 2018,

after complaints of seizures triggered by Incredibles 2, Disney–to its credit–re-edited the film to take out offending sequences and redistributed it. If Disney knew how fix problem flash (flash that creates a strobing effect) in Incredibles 2, one might wonder, why wasn’t it done preemptively for Skywalker, instead of issuing warnings?

Warnings are less effective. Already there are reports of audience members having seizures or just barely averting them (h/t to John Ledford).

What Disney should have done

It was a positive step for Disney to approach the Epilepsy Foundation to help spread the word. But if the company is serious about protecting the public. Disney can do even better by:

  • Taking more responsibility for the safety of the visual effects. Before releasing the movie, they should remove/alter the seizure-inducing aspects of visual sequences that could trigger seizures.
  • Hand out dark blue or dark green plastic glasses to all moviegoers and encourage them to wear them to protect against the flashing visuals. The cost of glasses should not be an issue; in its first two weeks the movie generated $840 million worldwide.
  • Another inexpensive option: Distribute eye patches to wear during the movie. Print a Star Wars logo on it, even. Photosensitive seizures aren’t triggered when the viewer watches with only one eye.

The Epilepsy Foundation recommendations

To be more effective, the strategies for seizure prevention offered in the Epilepsy Foundation’s news release should be more practical and detailed. The three recommendations are:

  • Ask a friend to watch the movie first.

Will your friend remember which scenes have a lot of flashing?

  • Take your friend with you when you go see the film to alert you to which scenes contain the flashing lights so you block your eyes during those scenes.

Several issues here. A photosensitive seizure can be triggered in a matter of seconds. Your friend would need to anticipate these scenes in time for you to block your eyes. After the scene begins, it may be too late to prevent the seizure. Disney could easily have identified these scenes in its warnings, providing enough identifying information about the prior scene for you to know to block your eyes in time.

In addition, the advice to block your eyes is inadequate because people need to know that merely closing their eyes will not work. At least one eye must be blocked for protection.

  • Teach your friend the three simple steps of seizure first aid — Stay, Safe, Side — so that they can assist if you have a seizure.

Staying with you and keeping you safe are good advice. But not every seizure is obvious to others. Your friend may not even know you’re having a seizure if you don’t lose consciousness or don’t have noticeable body jerks. You could have a seizure where you lose awareness but don’t lose consciousness, with minimal body movement, for example, which may not look like much but takes time to recover from.

My wish list for The Epilepsy Foundation

In this instance, the seizure prevention glass is half full, for which I am grateful. Some ideas to help fill that glass:

  • Lobby Disney (and other major movie and video game studios) to release entertainment that is less likely to trigger seizures. I don’t know whether the Epilepsy Foundation is already doing this behind the scenes. Their advocacy work has focused on other very important issues such as discrimination and generic drug substitution (that risks making anti-seizure treatment less effective).
  • When educating the public about averting photosensitive seizures, give greater prominence to the wearing of dark glasses or an eye patch, two simple remedies.
  • When educating the public about photosensitive epilepsy, always point out that the people affected are not just those with known epilepsy. In place of the news release wording “for about 3% of people with epilepsy,” expand it with “…and an unknown percentage of others who are unaware they have the condition.”

 



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