By Vilissa Thompson
The hype for Avengers: Endgame has been felt deeply within fandom and on social media for months. The massive, record-breaking opening weekend box office haul was a sheer indicator of the excitement for the film. For many, this movie represents a closing to a chapter, but there is an unspoken stumbling block that may prevent some fans from participating in the cultural phenomenon in theaters: the runtime of the film, which clocks in at 3 hours and 2 minutes.
The long runtime isn’t a huge surprise; this is, after all, the conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Infinity Saga and some of our favorite heroes’ journeys are expected to come to an end. Some fans even celebrate the hefty length, wanting to savor every last moment with the Avengers as we know them. For disabled fans, however, particularly those whose disabilities interfere with their bladder control, the runtime can feel daunting and inhibitory.
Disability, within fandoms and in Hollywood, is constantly overlooked, whether that’s in connection to casual tweets to "just deal" with the runtime and hold your pee until the credits, or in regards to broader accessibility and inclusion issues, such as limited (or no) captioning made available to disabled moviegoers. The stark ableism of such remarks discounts the predicament disabled fans are faced with, and makes them feel invisible and isolated in spaces they occupy.
As in the case of Endgame, longer runtimes bring to the surface the discussion of #PeeMath, a hashtag created and used by the disability community over the past few years. "Pee math" is calculating how long we can be out and about — or, in this case, sitting in a dark theater — before we may need a bathroom break.
"Being vulnerable to kidney infections, [I] drink a lot of water, roughly ten glasses a day. In addition, I have high blood pressure and take a diuretic among my other medications," Jenét M. tells MTV News. "I have to time log events such as concerts, plays, movies just right so I'm not uncomfortable."
For Jenét, having no access to a restroom for over two hours requires altering her medication schedule and limiting liquid intake for four or five hours prior to the event. Those barriers weren’t going to stop her from seeing Endgame in theaters, but did require her to carefully map her schedule. In an effort to minimize her discomfort and maintain as much of her wellness routine as possible, Jenét resolved to attend a 7:45 a.m. screening, which would allow her to halt her liquid intake starting at 7 p.m. the night before and wait until after the movie to take her morning pills.
Expecting disabled people (or anyone for that matter) to hold their pee for three hours is exclusionary, particularly when you add into the equation the full dynamics of the moviegoing experience, which include not just the length of the film itself, but also the customary mid- and post-credits scenes and the concessions a moviegoer looks forward to consuming.
"Having spina bifida does affect the bladder. If I'm going to a movie theater, I'm likely going to use the bathroom before a movie starts at a theater," Drew C. said. "But if a movie is over two hours long and I buy myself a medium or large drink for myself, the chances of needing to use the bathroom are pretty good.”
The pee math goes beyond just timing out your bathroom breaks — it also includes the time it takes to get to an accessible restroom in a society where public restrooms are not always as accessible as they legally should be.
For example, some accessible restrooms are deemed as such just for their installed grab bars, but moviegoers who use mobility aids encounter problems as soon as they leave the stall, where they come upon sinks with handles and soap dispensers that are out of reach. But at least those people are able to get into the stall in the first place.
"More often than not, I've encountered able-bodied people using these stalls which makes the wait longer," Drew said, adding that use of the accessible stalls has become so commonplace that most people don’t even recognize the holdup they’re causing. "Out of all the times I've gone to movie theaters in my teens and early twenties, I've only ever had one able bodied person come out of the stall look at me directly and apologize for using the accessible stall."
Some have suggested that adding intermissions to longer movies like Endgame could be the solution — and that might be one piece of the puzzle — but members of the community still have concerns. “If a film is over three hours and includes an intermission, I will bet you anything lines to the bathroom will be long and wheelchair users like myself will have to wait longer since we have fewer choices of accessible stalls,” Alice Wong, Founder & Director of the Disability Visibility Project, says.
The reality is that there is no one solution because everyone’s needs are diverse. This is particularly so with the disabled community — what works for one person may not work for others. But that does not mean we shouldn’t try to create various ways to ensure that everyone feels included in the moviegoing experience.
Access and availability are key issues that affect disabled people daily, and they can only be resolved if they’re a part of the mainstream consciousness. Otherwise, an important consumer base will continue be stymied from engaging in massive cultural moments, such as Endgame.
The disabled community has raised its concerns with the intention to be heard; will this be the time the world’s largest minority group is taken seriously, or will we be dismissed by the industry once again?