After Orlando Shooting, Hollywood Faces Tough Conversation About Violence

MTV True Life Orlando
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

The Tony Awards on Sunday night were a muted affair, held just hours after a mass shooting in a gay club left 50 people dead in Orlando, Fla.

“It’s quite important that in these situations, we in the arts keep going,” composer Andrew Lloyd Webber told Variety at a Tony after-party at New York’s Baccarat Hotel, adding that he’d just attended a late-night celebration for his musical “School of Rock” with the cast’s young actors. “I came away with one thought,” he said. “No child is born to hate.”

The entertainment industry is still grappling with the implications of the Orlando massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. On Twitter and elsewhere, celebrities expressed an outpouring of grief. J.K. Rowling posted a photo of victim Luis Vielma, 22, wearing his Hogwarts uniform as an employee at Universal Studios working at the “Harry Potter” ride. “I can’t stop crying,” she wrote. Writer-director Michael Showalter said he was angry at Hollywood for glorifying violence: “Just stop it. The videogames. The movies. All of it.” Ellen Page talked about how the gay community “must stand together more than ever.”

Kelly Bush Novak, founder and CEO of ID PR, and a gay rights advocate, told Variety she hopes the tragedy will have a galvanizing effect. “The victims in Orlando paid for their freedom with their lives,” Novak said. “Ours is the civil rights struggle of the 21st century. As agents of cultural change we must honor the lives of all LGBTQ people by telling stories that turn fear into pride for our youth, and that allow us to be seen in all of our diverse and powerful glory.”

“People go to the movies for escapism, but it’s hard to escape something like this.”
Analyst Jeff Bock

From Aurora to Newtown, after each mass shooting, Hollywood faces difficult conversations about its role in an increasingly dangerous world — one in which killers, warped by religious fundamentalism or mental illness, rely on easy access to assault weapons to end dozens of lives in a blink of an eye. This year alone, there has been a mass shooting on 133 of 164 days.

Each cycle of violence raises questions about people’s willingness to leave their homes to see movies, concerts, or plays. The murders in Orlando by a lone gunman, Omar Mateen, who was killed by police, may have lasting repercussions.

“At some point there’s a tipping point,” said Howard Levinson, a security consultant for schools, movie theaters, and businesses. He noted that assault-rifle-wielding police officers are now a common sight in France and other parts of Europe following last fall’s terrorist attacks in Paris. In the days leading up to the Cannes Film Festival, officials staged an elaborate standoff with gunmen to look for lapses in their emergency responsiveness. It’s a tactic that is already being embraced by sports stadiums. Officials and police at Boston’s Fenway Park, for instance, engaged in a mock counterterrorism exercise June 12, complete with fake gunshots and explosions. Levinson predicts such preparations could soon be the standard at major public venues.

“It’s a different world,” he said. “The term ‘active shooter’ barely existed 20 or 30 years ago. Now it’s on the tip of nearly everybody’s tongue.”

Theaters have not yet been required to install metal detectors and armed guards, but the movie business has made some moves to deal with the frightening new reality. Following the 2012 shooting at a late-night showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead and 70 injured, studios began moving preview screenings to as early as 8 p.m. out of safety concerns. Many major theater chains, such as AMC and Regal, tightened their costume policies, barring guests from bringing fake weapons or wearing masks.

Privately, studio executives said they did not expect the Orlando nightclub shooting to keep people away from movie theaters. Even in cases where theaters themselves have been the scene of murders, the aftershocks have been limited, and largely regional; ticket sales have dipped primarily in areas close to the crime scene, they said. But the steady stream of such events is bound to have a psychological impact on audiences.

‘Senseless Acts of Tragedy’: Lin-Manuel Miranda recited an emotional sonnet as part of an acceptance speech for “Hamilton” during the Tony Awards June 12 in New York. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

“People go to the movies for escapism, but it’s hard to escape something like this,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Every time you’re at a movie or a sporting event or gathering, it’s going to creep up into the back of people’s minds.”

Nightclubs will feel a financial pinch analogous to the one suffered by airlines in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when ridership declined, security consultants said. “Let’s call it the night-time economy, the businesses that exist between 6 pm. and 3 a.m. They will be impacted by an immediate panic,” predicted Robert C. Smith, CEO of Nightclub Security Consultants. “People will not go out.”

Smith believes metal detectors, which can cost in excess of $200,000 and require trained staffers to oversee them, could be prohibitively expensive for small venues. However, he says, clubs may be mandated to add training for bouncers on how to deal with shooters.

In addition to the prohibitive costs of high-tech security measures, the inconspicuous profiles of the killers themselves make preventing the next big attack nearly impossible. The internet has enabled shooters to become radicalized into extreme views, while also providing them access to information about building arsenals. Such potential killers typically have limited criminal records, making it difficult to track their moves.

“A lot of times they’re flying under the radar, and there’s not much indication they’re going to perpetrate an attack,” said Jeffrey Simon, author of “Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat.” “We’re living in an age where a lone-wolf terrorist, whatever their motivation, has an advantage over people trying to prevent an attack.”

At the Tonys, the “Hamilton” cast felt bittersweet emotions about winning 11 awards at a time of national tragedy. In the pressroom, creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda told reporters that the LGBT community is the “cornerstone” of the theater industry. The evening was the culmination of seven years of work, he said, but such shootings are a reminder that life can be snuffed out in an instant.

“You have tragic acts like today when you realize that tomorrow is not promised,” said Miranda. It was a moment of reflection that carried throughout the Tonys broadcast. Even the show’s final number, “The Schuyler Sisters,” seemed to double as a eulogy with the poignant lyric: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

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  1. GKN says:

    If the gun violence and massacres Hollywood had glorified well beyond the saturation point for years now has led to 133 people aping them in the past 164 days (which sounds about right), they will be reaping their just rewards if people refuse to leave their homes anymore to go to the movies. You go, studio execs – and reap what you sow!

  2. Mo says:

    What has this got to do with celebrities? I couldn’t give a frak if JK Rowling can’t stop crying cause one of the victims worked in Harry Potter land. For God’s sake! Celebs should not be the focus of this tragedy! And it also shouldn’t be shamelessly used as a way to beat down movie/computer games/etc.

    Why can’t people ever just focus on the poor people whose lives were stolen? They always have to turn it into a ’cause’ – the LBGT community, violence in movies etc. Just stop.

  3. bibol says:

    Hollywood probably will never make a movie about the violence of muslims. If they do they will blame the US

    • GKN says:

      Are you nuts? They’ve been the bad guys in practically all the HW films since the communist wall came down. You don’t get out much either!

  4. ss says:

    I want to be clear that this is NOT meant to be a condescending comment. I have questions and I want to be clear on why I am asking.

    As a Canadian, I’m often shocked to see differences from us to the US, even if it’s just small moments on TV. For example, most shows show taxis as having a partition between driver and customer. Maybe they’ll show a money slot that shows that the two never have to be in contact. In this country, we don’t have that. A taxi is a car. you pass the money up in the same way you would pass it to your buddy if you were sitting in the back seat.

    A friend of mine went to a KFC in Detroit after seeing a concert. He was shocked that there was a similar partition between the cashier and the customer. I know this isn’t something you see in every city, but it’s just not a thing we see at all in Canada.

    At a concert once, I once complained to a friend from Virginia about the ridiculous level of security. It was a club show, yet security was still pulling everything out of my bag. He told me that this was actually low level security as far as he was concerned. I think this was his first concert out of the States, so his first impression was that it was pretty chill. He also thought it was insane that I wanted to walk home alone from the bus, even though I could literally see my home from the stop.

    Again, I don’t say this to be like “nanana booboo, our country is better!” We also can have our fair share of violence. I live in Toronto, and gang activity has been up recently. But I want to ask, aside from gun control, what makes the US so much more violent? Is it an attitude? Mental illness? I highly doubt you guys have that many more mental illness cases than we do. But there’s SOMETHING clearly happening here. Is it habit? We have immigrants too, so we can’t claim that it’s strictly them. Not by a long shot. I have yet to find a satisfying answer to this question.

    I also want to point out that we are not aggressively seeking out a border fence against a more violent neighbour to the South. Technically, the difference in violence could easily make that a campaign issue here, but we just don’t get as riled up about it as American politicians seem to get about Mexico. I always wonder about that as well. We could totally freak about guns in the same way, and I think we would have a legitimate argument.

    • GKN says:

      ss, you’ll find a lot of answers in Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” which asks all those very same questions – then fact-checks the usual replies. Plus he uses Canada a lot to illustrate some excellent points. The best and truest film I’ve seen on the subject. Check it out!

  5. m says:

    why dont they ban guns .

  6. nobody important says:

    This happens every time a terrible event like this happens. People say that the act is terrible and that we need to change. Everyone agrees and then waits for someone else to do the changing for them. No one ever does anything, everyone forgets, and everything returns to the status quo. If you really want change, actively fight for it.

  7. rhscola says:

    not going to theaters or events is letting fear win, and thats no life I want to live. would be nice to see a decrease in certain types of violence in films though; I can’t even watch the football stadium scene in Dark Knight Rises anymore

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