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The Delaware Supreme Court has ruled that a movie theater manager’s silence mandate during a 2007 screening of Tyler Perry‘s Why Did I Get Married? didn’t violate the state’s equal accommodation laws.
Before we get into the judge’s analysis, let’s allow some perspective. We hope we’re not stereotyping here, but there’s two kinds of people in this world: Those who get aggravated when someone else is talking during a movie and those who get aggravated when being told to shut up during a movie. The film industry seems to have sided with the pro-silence crowd, airing public service announcements instructing audiences to turn off their cell phones and remain quiet during movies.
That makes sense, unless you belong to the anti-shut-up crowd, like 23 black moviegoers who attended Why Did I Get Married? in a Delaware theater in 2007.
Before the movie began, theater manager David Stewart, who is white, decided to instruct the crowd to be quiet. Stewart was then followed out of the theater by a patron, who told Stewart that comments were not well taken. So Stewart went back, explaining he didn’t mean to offend anyone, but he had to make the announcement per the policy of theater owner Carmike Cinemas.
Unfortunately for Stewart and the theater, one of those in attendance was Juana Fuentes-Bowles, director of Delaware’s Human Relations Division. She stood up and told everyone that Stewart’s comments were racist. Later, her office conducted a hearing and found that Stewart’s conduct violated the state’s equal accommodation law. Each of the 23 complainants were awarded $1,500 in damages for being told to be quiet during the movie.
A Superior Court then reversed the decision, and now the state’s Supreme Court has affirmed the reversal.
According to Supreme Court Justice Jack Jacobs, the theater-goers failed to establish evidence of racial discrimination. The judge accepted testimony by Stewart that his comments were not motivated by race as Stewart evidently would have equally told teenagers to shut up during a screening of Halloween.
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