Two British cinema chains have faced widespread criticism after they pulled a film about gang violence from their screens.
On Sunday, Vue, one of Britain’s largest theatre chains, cancelled screenings of ‘Blue Story,’ a feature about rival London gangs, after a brawl at one of its theatres on Saturday.
Showcase, another chain, also pulled the movie, while Odeon, another group, said in an emailed statement that it would continue to screen ‘Blue Story’ but had put “a number of security measures in place.”
The fight, at one of Vue’s theatres in Birmingham, England, started in a concourse, according to Birmingham Live, a local news service. It eventually spread outside and escalated to involve up to 100 people, the West Midlands Police said in a statement. Two machetes were seized and seven police officers injured, the statement added.
Six people, between ages 13 and 19, have been arrested on suspicion of violent disorder, the statement said.
Vue and Showcase’s decisions to cancel further screenings of ‘Blue Story’ led to immediate criticism on social media. Jackie Burkhart, a Twitter user, called Vue’s decision “racist” in a post that has been liked more than 4,000 times.
“I’m really angry about it,” said Ronan Bennett, the creator of ‘Top Boy,’ an acclaimed TV series about British gang life that is shown on Netflix, in a telephone interview. The movie theatres’ actions were “cowardly,” he added.
“You make a film about the problems in the community and the problems with gang violence, and someone pulls it after this?” he said. “What’s the logic behind that?”
“It’s hard enough to get a film made at the best of times, but to get one made about this subject is really hard and needs support,” Bennett added.
A spokeswoman for the West Midlands Police said they had not asked theatres to stop showing the film by Andrew Onwubolu, better known as Rapman. Onwubolu, who declined through his publicist to be interviewed for this article, is a rapper from south London who found YouTube fame last year with ‘Shiro’s Story’ a three-part musical drama that has drawn millions of views.
“‘Blue Story’ is a film about love not violence,” Onwubolu wrote on Twitter. “It’s truly unfortunately that a small group of people can ruin things for everybody,” he added.
“This decision is not, as some have alleged, based on biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself,” Vue said in an emailed statement Monday. “During the first 24 hours of the film, over 25 significant incidents were reported and escalated to senior management in 16 separate cinemas,” the statement added. “This is the biggest number we have ever seen for any film in a such a short time frame.”
Paramount Pictures, which funded the movie along with BBC Films, said in a statement that the movie had screened in more than 300 theatres during the weekend.
“While we are disappointed that these are the actions we have had to take,” Vue’s statement said, “we hope it is understandable that we cannot, and will not, take any risks with regard to the welfare and safety of our staff and our customers.”
The movie theatre chains’ moves come as gang violence — and especially knife crime — is a source of anxiety in Britain and a talking point in the country’s coming general election. Culture has often been at the centre of debates about its causes, and some law enforcement officials have blamed drill, a bleak style of rap music that sometimes features references to gang violence.
British courts have handed down orders that prohibit some drill rappers from using words associated with rival gangs in their songs, prompting complaints from human rights groups that the rulings infringe on free speech.