The writer-director of “Blue Story” has expressed doubt as to the reasons why British exhibitor Vue pulled the movie from its theaters following a mass brawl at a cinema where the film was being screened.
The violence erupted close to a screening of the film at the Star City entertainment center in Birmingham, in central England. Vue yanked the movie, which focuses on two friends dragged into gang rivalry, from all its theaters and later said there had been 25 incidents at 16 of its sites. It did not give details about those incidents.
“I heard about the [Birmingham] incident, but it wasn’t linked to ‘Blue Story.’ It was just in the cinema, in the line apparently for ‘Frozen,’ but then they pinned it on ‘Blue Story,’” director Andrew Onwubolu, who is also the YouTube star known as Rapman, told BBC radio Wednesday. “I’m like, is this legal?….There’s no connection to my movie.”
Onwubolu added: “Then you start thinking, is there hidden reasons there? What’s the owner like? Has he got an issue with young urban youth? Is he prejudiced? Does he believe that this film brings a certain type? Is it a color thing? You start thinking all these things.”
Onwubolu said that security could have been heightened in case of any concerns and that Paramount, the film’s distributor in the U.K., had offered all screening sites extra security. Paramount did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an updated statement, Vue International CEO Tim Richards said that even with extra security measures, the company was not satisfied that the risk was reduced to an acceptable level. He also denied that the decision to withdraw the film had anything to do with its subject matter or quality.
“I have never misunderstood the power of any art form and this film is not alone in its impact,” Richards said. “However, in over 30 years of working in cinema exhibition in the U.K., I have never seen a nationwide issue like this affecting so many cinemas in such a short space of time. Group incidents started at 10 a.m. on a Friday morning throughout the U.K., including small local cinemas, ending at midnight, and then this started again at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, ending at 10 p.m. on Saturday evening – across 16 of our cinemas alone.”
Vue has not detailed those incidents at its sites, but Richards said that youths younger than the film’s 15 age rating were buying tickets for other movies in order to get into “Blue Story” screenings and “resisting requests for ID.”
In a separate interview with BBC television, Onwubolu said of the alleged incidents: “Where’s the proof?”
Onwubolu said on BBC radio that attracting young people “was the aim” of his film, which carries an anti-gang message. “The whole thing was to have the cinema filled up with 15-year-olds who are literally making that choice whether they should go down that route or go down that [other] route,” Onwubolu said, adding: “As kids act [out], you always have to be prepared.”
He also said that members of the two real-life gangs that were the basis for the gangs in the film had watched the movie together without any issues.
David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, said it was possible the violence in Birmingham had nothing to do with “Blue Story.” “It was not West Midlands police who asked for this film to be withdrawn,” Jamieson told BBC radio. “That was a decision of the cinema chain.”
But Jamieson acknowledged Vue’s statement that 25 incidents had happened at Vue theaters screening “Blue Story.” He also said that police officers called to the Birmingham brawl were attacked by 12- and 13-year-olds carrying weapons. “That is unusual,” Jamieson said.
Richards said that Vue’s decision “had acted as a significant catalyst for a much-needed national conversation.” He added: “I have spent my career championing diversity in the industry working with institutions dedicated to British and independent film.”