Polemic ‘Justice’ for Cineplex

Cineplex Odeon’s decision not to show “Poetic Justice” on opening weekend at its Universal City cinemas came under fire from the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday. The council adopted a resolution protesting the decision, stating that the theater chain showed “an extreme lack of sensitivity” and “demonstrates a blatant disregard for civil rights laws.”

The resolution, which calls for the district attorney to investigate whether the decision violates state civil rights law, drew an immediate protest from Cineplex Odeon.

It was introduced by Council woman Rita Walters, who could not be reached for comment. The council action has no direct impact other than putting the city on the record in opposition to the theater’s position.

Walters was upset not only because the theaters didn’t show the film on its opening weekend, but because published reports quoted a Cineplex Odeon spokesman explaining the booking policy by saying the Universal City complex “is programmed with an upscale demographic” in mind.

‘Whites only’ comparison

The resolution denounced that phrase as “words that on the surface sound too closely like the ‘whites only’ exclusionary policy that we have worked so long and diligently to eradicate …”

“At a time when Los Angeles needs to build better relationships between racial and ethnic groups, the decision by one of the nation’s largest cinema complexes to ban in its opening weekend a movie about young African-Americans in South Central Los Angeles shows an extreme lack of sensitivity and should be protested,” the council’s statement said.

The council resolution drew plaudits from Sandra Evers-Manly, president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

“It’s been a major area of concern for us, and I think the council’s resolution is quite commendable,” Evers-Manly said. “It sends a message to Hollywood and I certainly hope that Hollywood will listen.”

Questions about Universal City’s booking policies arose when a Cineplex insider told Variety that “Poetic Justice” and upcoming “Crooklyn” (a Spike Lee pic) might not be booked on the hill for reasons of “security” (Daily Variety, June 30).

Subsequently Cineplex decided to open “Poetic” today, six days after the film opened nation wide.

“I am astonished that the Los Angeles City Council would pass such a motion,” Cineplex Odeon prexy Allen Karp said in a prepared statement. “It would appear they are not aware of all the facts. We exercise judgment with respect to each film based on our historical experience as to whether there may be risk to our patrons.

“Our goal in delaying the opening of ‘Poetic Justice’ at Universal City cinemas in Los Angeles was motivated only by a concern for public safety in a theater where a violent incident occurred during the opening weekend of ‘Boyz N the Hood’ in 1991.”

“Boyz N the Hood” was “Justice” director John Singleton’s first film.

In 1991, five people were shot during a screening of “Boyz” at the Universal multiplex, adjacent to the new CityWalk, an upscale restaurant/retail street.

Another incident that reportedly contributed to the Cineplex stance was a fist fight that broke out in front of the U cinemas in late April after a screening of New Line Cinema’s rap comedy “Who’s the Man.”

After that, Cineplex chose not to book Mario Van Peebles’ “Posse” and the Hughes Bros.’ “Menace II Society” (Variety, July 12).