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Making the cinema safe at showtime.

VIOLENT INCIDENTS ACCOMPANYING the showing of urban action movies such as Colors, Boyz 'N the Hood, New Jack City, and Juice have put theater owners on alert that additional security may be necessary when these films are playing. Theater owners who fail to consider foreseeable assaults on their patrons during showings of such films do so at the risk of increased liability exposure. In addition, other businesses in the vicinity of theaters may be at risk from spillover violence associated with the showings.

Properly planned security measures at theaters screening urban action films can reduce or eliminate the danger of violent incidents and show reasonable care to protect against civil litigation. Recognizing the potential for danger early on and planning to reduce the threat of third party assaults are essential in areas where gang members or other violence-prone individuals may be drawn to theaters showing urban action films.

Producers of urban action movies and theater owners who show the movies point to positive messages against violence contained in the films.

Critics, on the other hand, contend that TV advertising and theater trailers for the movies emphasize, glorify, and seek to exploit the violence of the films. Individuals who are prone to violence are attracted to theaters by the perceived glorification of violence in advertisements and create the need for extraordinary security measures.

Barry London, president of Paramount Motion Picture Group, the distributor of Juice, acknowledged in a recent Los Angeles Times article that "Certain movies have an ability to attract certain audiences, and, unfortunately, a potential exists for violence in this society."

Violence has accompanied the opening of several urban action movies. In the spring of 1990, a riot accompanied the opening of New Jack City in Westwood, CA, when the theater oversold tickets without informing hundreds of patrons waiting in line.

At least 11 people were wounded by gunfire at Southern California theaters at the opening of Boyz 'N the Hood in July 1991. Nationwide, 25 violent incidents were reported at theaters showing Boyz 'N the Hood, according to a Los Angeles Times article. In April 1988, a teenage boy was killed and a girl was wounded while waiting in line to see the youth gang movie Colors in Stockton, CA.

Prominent black filmmakers, concerned with what they called an emerging media-fed stereotype that "black films equal violence," met with movie exhibitors in Las Vegas in February 1992 to propose solutions to ease attendees' tensions at theaters playing their movies.

The question facing the movie industry-filmmakers, distributors, and exhibitors--is how to market these films in mainstream American theaters without losing audiences to unreasoned fears.

Despite strong accusations against the press by black filmmakers, many movie industry exhibitors privately said that incidents of violence at theaters showing New Jack City and Boyz 'N the Hood were not actually overreported.

According to an article in The Los Angeles Times, "They said there were just a few problems blown out of proportion," said one national exhibitor who asked not to be named, "but in fact we had at least some kind of problem at every theater [showing New Jack City]."

Urban action movies are not the only film genre experiencing violent third party assaults at theaters. In Valley Stream, NY, a moviegoer was shot and killed during a showing of The Godfather III in December 1991. Three dozen closed-circuit video cameras now monitor the interior of the 14-screen Sunrise Multiplex theater and its parking lot. According to an article in The Los Angeles Times, the theater has also hired additional security officers and is running ads in local newspapers in an effort to lure customers back to the facility.

In another incident, an exchange of words between two young moviegoers ended in a barrage of gunfire outside the Duffield Theater in downtown Brooklyn, NY, in March 1988. The exchange, reported in The New York Times, left one person dead and another charged with murder.

A premise security litigation against a theater owner or operator generally involves charges that the owner or operator had a duty to use reasonable care to protect patrons. The premise follows that a breach of that duty occurs when he or she fails to provide particular protective measures to prevent foreseeable assaults.

While the owner or operator of the theater is not an insurer of a patron's safety, he or she has a duty to supervise patrons and prevent injuries where the risk of those injuries is known or, by the exercise of reasonable care, should be known. The standard is one of ordinary care exercised under the circumstances.(*)

The quote attributed to Paramount Motion Picture Group President Barry London earlier in this article and the incidents of violence recorded to date at theaters where urban action films were showing place theater owners on notice that third party assaults are foreseeable where gang members or other violence-prone individuals may be present during a showing.

OPERATORS OF THEATERS NEAR URBAN areas with known gang problems will be particularly challenged when urban action movies are screened at their theaters. One such theater is the Baldwin Theater in Baldwin Hills, CA, in the

Los Angeles metropolitan area. Kenneth Lombard, executive vice president of Economic Resources Corporation, which owns the Baldwin Theater, said the principal issue for theater owners showing urban action films is crowd control.

"Hollywood and theater operators are going through the initial stages of a learning curve on how to play these movies," Lombard said in a Los Angeles Times interview. "Any kind of action film is going to attract the same audience. But there is nothing about the product itself that will make people go out and shoot guns."

When interviewed for this article after Juice had finished its run at the Baldwin Theater, Lombard described security measures taken during the screening to prevent violence:

"Security guards were on duty throughout the showing of Juice from the time the theater opened until its closing," he said. "And, before a guard was cleared for duty, we screened each of them carefully, including conducting an interview, to determine if any preexisting attitudes would make them unsuitable for the assignment.

"We did not want a security guard's attitude toward our patrons to become part of the problem. It was our intention to deliver quality service and treat our patrons with respect, and we felt that the patrons would return that respect," Lombard said.

"To eliminate any possible racial friction between patron and security guard," Lombard continued, "the race of the theater patrons and guards was matched. Guards knowledgeable of gang affiliations were selected with preference being given to off-duty police officers who would have the added support of their on-duty fellow officers.

"We stationed guards strategically throughout the theater complex to monitor persons arriving at the parking lot, waiting in line, and approaching the metal detectors in use for the film's screening.

Guards were also positioned inside the theater and were linked by radio to guards outside the theater. The inside guards were advised of the location and description of suspected gang members as they entered the theater," Lombard explained.

"In situations like this, metal detectors have a tremendous deterrent effect. Particular attention was given by the security guards to patrons' reactions as they approached the metal detectors. If they left the line leading to the metal detector, they were monitored to determine if they returned to their vehicle for the purpose of hiding a weapon," continued Lombard.

"If we suspected that a patron had a weapon, the local police were advised. This coordination was worked out during our preevent planning," he said.

"As the number of people attending a movie increases, the odds increase that someone will raise some hell. Our experience has been that the disturbance is not caused by a group of people but rather by only one or two.

"Therefore, our strategy of crowd control was to show a high level of professional authority overall and to quickly isolate any disturbances that occurred. We stressed to the security guards that, in the event of a disturbance, we wanted them to move in with respect and avoid an overtly confrontational style," Lombard said.

Lombard's experience has been that most violent incidents and disturbances occur in the parking lot after the movie is over. For this reason it is essential that security guards be posted there with support from the local police, if possible, as the theater empties.

"We feel fortunate that no incidents occurred during the showing of Juice. But we felt confident that we approached the problem with due diligence. We were very aware of our responsibilities to provide a safe environment to our patrons," Lombard concluded.

According to the National Association of Theater Owners, no industrywide security standards exist for policing crowds at urban action movies. Security measures at each theater are left to the discretion of theater owners and operators. Nonetheless, in recognition of the problems in providing security for urban action movies, movie distribution companies are now offering to assist theater owners with security costs in areas where additional security is necessary.

It is clear that, in addition to other management aspects of theater operations, theater owners and operators must now consider the need for increased security measures when showing a movie that may attract individuals who are prone to violence. 2 (*) John A. Tarantino and Mark A. Dombroff, Premise Security: Law and Practice, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1990), p. 100.

James P. Graham, CPP, is president and principal consultant of James P. Graham and Associates in Agoura Hills, CA. He is a security and investigative consultant for the Motion Picture Association of America and a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Events
Author:Graham, James P.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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