Cinema audience This week, we have been inundated with media enquiries about the incident at a screening on Sunday 29 April of the classic ‘spaghetti’ western, The good, the bad and the ugly. Tamsin Parker, a young autistic woman and National Autistic Society volunteer, was forcibly removed from a screening for laughing, as reported in the Guardian.

It was clearly a very distressing incident, which has highlighted the need for venues like this, and their staff, to have much better understanding of autism. We’re deeply sorry Tamsin had to go through this, but pleased that the BFI have apologised (see their statement below) and are now working with us to see what needs to change so this never happens again.

By pure chance, an off-duty member of the National Autistic Society was also there, with her autistic son and attempted to intervene. Here she tells her story of what happened.

“We witnessed a serious lack of understanding at the BFI. A woman was forcibly removed by security for laughing in unexpected places during a screening of The good, the bad and the ugly. An audience member shouted at her to ‘shut up’ (using gender abusive language) and complained to staff. The result of this complaint was the house lights coming up and several security guards carrying her out along the front stage as she shouted, ‘please stop - I’m sorry - I have Asperger’s - I’ll stop - I’m sorry’.

“As she was being taken out, the man who complained stood up in front of the audience and gave an abusive speech about her as scores of people left, many were angry about what they’d seen and concerned for her wellbeing. The woman is autistic and was celebrating her 25th birthday. It’s her favourite movie and she was really excited. She was just happy and laughing. A big crowd went to the security office to offer support and speak out and to ask for the man to also be removed, for hate speech and verbal abuse. The BFI were eventually persuaded to act.

It was heart-breaking to watch someone being carried from their seat distressed, to hear them crying out and apologising and announcing to a full house that they are autistic... She had been happy: she was just laughing.

”Our statement made clear how shocked we were to hear about the incident. It was heartening that so many audience members were sympathetic, but it showed how far we have to go for autistic people to get the understanding they deserve.

We concluded: “Almost half of autistic people say they often don’t leave the house because they are worried about the public's reaction to them. And almost 8 in 10 are socially isolated as a result. With over 700,000 autistic people in the UK, it’s vital that they are able to enjoy going to the cinema just like everyone else. We will be reaching out to the BFI to see how we can improve their staff’s understanding of autism, so that other autistic film fans don’t find themselves in the same appalling situation.”

The BFI have since responded and we have been in touch with them again about our Autism Friendly Award. They are very keen that we support them to improve their practice and to work towards our Award, which includes staff training so incidents like this can be avoided in the future.

They also issued this apology: “We unreservedly apologise to Tamsin for the distress caused to her, and we are sincerely sorry to all those affected by the incident at Sunday’s screening at BFI Southbank. 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, on Sunday, in what was a challenging and complex situation, we got it wrong. We are taking this situation extremely seriously and we are investigating further to understand what happened, and have contacted the customers affected. 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.

“We’d also like to make it clear that we ejected a member of the audience who made offensive remarks to another customer on Sunday evening. BFI Southbank is an inclusive place and all are welcome, we are working hard to ensure we can provide all our customers with the best possible experience.”

Learn more about the Autism Friendly Award.