British exhibitor Vue is reinstating gang film “Blue Story” at its sites in the U.K. after having pulled the movie in the wake of a violent brawl near a screening in central England. Vue CEO Tim Richards told Variety that he hoped the film would start reappearing on Vue screens from as soon as Thursday night and that it would be fully reinstated over the weekend, with beefed-up but low-profile security measures in place.
Richards said he had tried, without success, to speak to the film’s writer-director, Rapman. Richards added that he thinks the movie should have had a different rating. “That was part of the problem: This film should have been an 18- and not a 15-rated film because what was happening was, there were kids underage trying to sneak in, and to crash into the screen with any ticket they could get their hands on.”
The cinema chain withdrew the film, which tells the story of two friends caught up in a London gang war, after the brawl in Birmingham, England, and what the company said were numerous other “significant incidents” at its theaters where the movie was being shown.
The withdrawal provoked a fierce backlash, on social media and elsewhere, and has been headline news in the U.K. this week. Rapman (whose real name is Andrew Onwubolu), was among those questioning whether the Birmingham brawl – which saw 100 youths fighting, several arrests made and police officers injured – was actually associated with his film. British cops have not linked the film to the mass fight.
Rapman broke through with a trilogy of short films on YouTube dubbed “Shiro’s Story.” Earlier Wednesday, he had demanded to see proof that “Blue Story” was connected to any specific incidence of violence and said he had also asked himself whether there were other reasons the film was removed. “You start thinking, is there hidden reasons there?” he told the BBC. “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?”
Vue has maintained that the sole reason it pulled the movie, which was playing at 60 sites, was safety, and had nothing to do with its content.
Richards said the majority of the incidents at its theaters happened before the Birmingham brawl and that Vue has CCTV footage showing that the violence in Birmingham started within a screening of the movie before spilling outside. “We have CCTV in all of [the] screens in all of our complexes and I can say definitively that the fight started in the movie,” Richards said. “It absolutely started there. It was actually inside the auditorium itself.”
The Vue chief added that the decision to reinstate the film was made after speaking to the film’s producers, as well as community groups such as Dope Black Dads.
“We spoke to producers, and to Paramount, and then I personally to a lot of the leaders of a lot of the groups concerned about our actions and I explained what happened and why we felt we had to do what we did, and they were very helpful and understanding,” Richards said. “We then sat down with our operational team and came up with a game plan to put the movie back on our screens.” He added that there “will be seriously beefed-up security but it’s not going to be in your face” and “just going to be there in case there’s a problem.”
The Showcase chain also pulled the film last weekend shortly after Vue’s decision to yank it, but reinstated it about a day later. Other exhibitors, including Odeon, stuck with the film and implemented extra security. Backers of the picture include BBC Films and Paramount, both of which have publicly stood by the film and its maker since the furore erupted.
Newcomer Stephen Odubola and Michael Ward, who was a lead in Netflix’s “Top Boy,” star in “Blue Story.” It took £1.3 million ($1.7 million) in its opening weekend in the U.K.
Richards said that “the director labeled us liars and racists and that was very difficult,” and that accusations of racism have “been very troubling for the whole company.” He added that what has happened touches upon wider issues. “This is not about Vue, this is not about the movie. This is about why do teenage kids feel compelled to carry a machete or knife when they leave their homes – this is a major issue in Britain right now and it’s something we need to have dialogue about. I’m hoping this whole episode, if nothing else, will get that going even more.”