My brother is a huge fan of Donald Glover/Childish Gambino and has been talking nonstop about his latest project called Guava Island. Even though I don’t know very much about Donald Glover, I was interested to see if audio description would be available so that viewers with vision impairments wouldn’t miss out on the fun. I was thrilled to discover that audio description was in fact available and it helped me understand more about the visual information that was onscreen. Today, I will be sharing my thoughts on watching Guava Island with audio description on Amazon Prime Video. This is not a review of Guava Island itself, rather a review of the technology that allows me to watch it.
Background information on Guava Island
For those not familiar with the project, Guava Island is a short movie/visual album that stars Donald Glover (also known by his stage name, Childish Gambino) and Rihanna who play characters Deni and Kofi, respectively. Deni is a local celebrity and musician who works in a factory and talks about his plan to perform at a music festival later in the day, and Kofi works as a seamstress sewing the valuable blue silk, which seems to be the island’s main export. During the film, several of Childish Gambino’s songs are interpolated into the plot and touch on themes of exploitation of workers and a divided society.
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What is audio description?
Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. Audio description is provided during natural pauses in dialogue so it does not distract from the video. When using audio description on Amazon Prime Video, no additional hardware or software is necessary.
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How to enable audio description on Amazon Prime Video
To enable audio description for Guava Island and other titles on Amazon Prime Video, follow these instructions:
- Click the “watch now” button on the title’s main screen
- Wait for the ad at the beginning to play or skip it
- Navigate to the subtitles/audio options menu, which is in the top right corner
- Under the audio section, check the box that says “English [Audio Description]”
- Close the menu by tapping outside of the screen. The first line of the audio description is “Amazon Prime Video”
Not all titles have audio description available, but users can find out which titles have it by looking at the audio languages on the film’s description page. This information can be found right under the subtitles.
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What’s the audio description like?
The audio description for Guava Island is read by a natural sounding female voice that has no distinguishable accent, which can be easily understood. At the beginning of the film, the title credits are read verbatim and prioritized over the description of the animated scene featuring images of the characters running across the screen. I’m glad that the describer took the time to say everyone’s names since many of the names were very unique.
Information that is described on screen
The following elements of Guava Island are included in audio descriptions:
Who is in the scene
Many of the characters have distinctive voices, but it still helps to know who is talking to who, and where they are in relation to each other. Many characters also make silent entrances, so having their presence announced ensures that I’m not confused and that they didn’t just come out of nowhere.
Deni is frequently on the move, running down the street and very rarely in the same place twice. Audio description helps me to know exactly where he is going, and where he might be going next.
Movement and dancing
In many of the musical numbers, especially “This is America,” the characters are moving around and dancing to the music. During scenes where music with lyrics is playing, the audio description is very short and communicates only the most crucial information, such as grabbing a remote from the ceiling. The volume of the music is decreased to make sure the audio description is heard clearly.
Deni frequently uses different facial expressions to communicate emotion, and audio description ensures that the viewer is able to understand when he is smiling because he is happy versus when he is smiling because he is scared.
Descriptions of people and their clothing
Most of the descriptions for characters are not very detailed, but they provide just enough information so that the viewer can imagine what the character looks like. For example, Kofi is described as wearing her hair in long braids, and later on in the film characters are described as wearing elaborate blue costumes.
What I wish was described more
Audio description can only include so many details, but there were a couple of elements that I wish were described more in Guava Island. This includes:
Animation at the beginning
As mentioned before, I’m glad that the names of everyone included in the title credits were read out loud in audio description. Once the opening credits ended though, I wish there had been more description of the animation style and what was happening onscreen, as it helped to explain the origin story of the island.
Many of the characters wore bright, colorful costumes that reflected the tropical island theme. Since there were very few costume changes throughout the play, I would have loved to hear a description of Kofi’s outfit or Deni’s colorful stage clothing.
How audio description helps me understand Guava Island
After watching the film, I talked to my brother about what I thought of the movie and was able to talk about different details I would have otherwise missed. For example, there was an incredibly important scene that set the tone for the rest of the movie that contained absolutely no dialogue or music- it was almost completely silent. Thanks to audio description, I was able to know what was going on and figure out what happened. In this particular scene, I appreciate that the audio describer did not explicitly talk about every single thing that was happening, so that the viewer could react to the scene just like everyone else.
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Another small detail I liked
In the end credits, I was excited to hear that the Media Access Group at WGBH was credited with producing the audio description for Guava Island. Audio describers are often uncredited and viewers have no idea who created the descriptions that help them so much. I’d love to know more about who narrated Guava Island and who wrote the script for audio description, but it’s also cool to be able to look up the company who created the description.
I’m personally a huge fan of audio description, because I tend to get confused easily when watching movies and TV shows, though I recognize not everyone likes using it or that they find it to be distracting. However, I’m glad that Amazon Prime Video allows viewers to watch films with audio description, and that Guava Island had audio description available from the moment it was released, so that vision impaired fans would not have to wait to fully enjoy the film. I had a lot of fun watching Guava Island with audio description on Amazon Prime Video, and I’m sure you will too!