The first year that the Academy Awards live broadcast offered Closed Captions was in 2021.
Following the 94th Academy Awards ceremony on March 27, 2022, a false tweet from Twitter user @fondasbian was posted with a decades-old video of actor Jane Fonda with the caption, “The Oscars only started providing Closed captions in 2021.”
While this misleading message was somewhat overshadowed by an incident involving comedian Chris Rock and actor Will Smith, that didn’t stop the tweet from receiving tens of thousands of combined retweets and likes. Those shares only served to boost the false claim.
The Misleading Tweet
The tweet in question claimed: “Jane Fonda signed her best actress speech in 1979 because the Oscars wouldn’t offer closed captions. The Oscars only started providing closed captions in 2021.”
In the brief 30-second video from the 51st Academy Awards in 1979, Fonda did sign part of her acceptance speech for the hearing-impaired. She was accepting an award for best actress for her role in the 1978 film, “Coming Home.” One of the main characters in the film is a disabled veteran. He was portrayed by actor Jon Voight.
The full speech was uploaded to the official Oscars YouTube channel:
The portion included in the tweet is bolded below:
I’m so happy. I wanted to win very much because I’m so proud of “Coming Home,” and I want many people to see the movie.
I’m signing part of what I’m saying tonight because while we were making the movie we all became more aware of the problems of the handicapped. Over 14 million people are deaf. They are the invisible handicapped and can’t share this evening. So this is my way of acknowledging them.
Closed Captions at the Oscars
The tweet in question claimed that the Oscars first started providing closed captions in 2021. In truth, the Oscars had been providing closed captioning for decades.
On March 27, 1982, Wisconsin’s Leader-Telegram newspaper published that a brand new way of providing captions during live television would be debuting at that year’s Oscars:
A new method for providing closed captioning for hearing-impaired viewers will be unveiled by the National Captioning Institute during ABC-TV coverage of the 54th annual Academy Awards presentations March 29.
Called Real Time, the method is a form of electronic computerized shorthand which will allow hearing-impaired viewers to receive closed captions throughout the entire telecast, including acceptance speeches the moment they are spoken.
NCI spokesman John E. D. Ball said Real Time involves a courtroom style stenotype machine and a computer capable of transmitting phonetic symbols into words.
The First Ever Closed Captions
Twitter user @bubbaprog pointed out that the March 27 tweet from @fondasbian was misleading. “This tweet has 5,000 retweets and it’s completely false,” @bubbaprog tweeted. “The Academy Awards were literally the first live program to utilize closed-captioning in 1982 and have been captioned ever since.”
It’s true that the Oscars had featured closed captions during every ceremony since 1982. However, while the Academy Awards were the first program to utilize closed captions during a live broadcast, similar technology for prerecorded programs (not live) had already been partially implemented two years before.
On March 16, 1980, the Chicago Tribune newspaper published that NBC, ABC, and PBS announced they would begin to “inaugurate a new service designed to enlarge the world of prime-time TV for Americans with impaired hearing.”
According to the article, programs that received the first closed captions on American television were the “Wonderful World of Disney,” ABC’s “Sunday Night Movie,” “Eight Is Enough,” “Barney Miller,” “Masterpiece Theater,” “Once Upon a Classic,” and “Mystery Theater.”
In sum, no, the Oscars did not wait until 2021 to start providing closed captions. The Academy Award ceremonies had been broadcast with closed captions since 1982 and were the first live program to utilize the technology.
Associated Press. “3 Networks Start Captioned TV for the Deaf.” Chicago Tribune, 16 Mar. 1980, https://www.newspapers.com/image/386898773/.
“Closed Captions for Oscars.” Leader-Telegram, 27 Mar. 1982, https://www.newspapers.com/image/360437555/.
Ebert, Roger. Coming Home Movie Review & Film Summary (1978). 1 Jan. 1978, https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/coming-home-1978.
Jane Fonda Winning Best Actress. 51st Oscars (1979), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL_73XeE8fo.