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According to a report published in Le Parisien on Monday, a screening of Joker on Sunday night at the Grand Rex cinema in Paris turned into panic when a man screamed, “Allahu akbar!” (“God is great” in Arabic), causing audience members to flee for the exits.
Viewers present at the 9:30 p.m. show described how, about midway through the movie, the suspect — later identified as a 34-year-old male residing in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt — began saying, “it’s political” several times from his seat. When some viewers tried to shush him, the man stood up, put his hands on his chest and screamed, “Allahu akbar!” and then began mumbling in Arabic.
At that point several audience members dashed for the exits, with someone falsely claiming that the man had a gun. “It was total panic,” a viewer named Victor told Le Parisien. “People jumped over seats and women fell to the ground in the aisles.”
When the suspect tried to flee as well, several audience members and a security guard wrestled him to the ground, although the man managed to escape. He was picked up afterward near the theater by Paris police and taken into custody.
The director of the Grand Rex, however, told The Hollywood Reporter that the suspect, working with an accomplice, staged the incident on purpose in order to steal viewers’ personal items during the screening. “They were two thieves looking for a way to take people’s phones and bags. Apparently they had already used the same tactic once on a train,” he explained.
The Rex director went on to say that the theater, which normally holds 500, had roughly 200 people in it during the screening and roughly 25 audience members fled, with the rest staying until the end of the movie. Afterward, the theater was evacuated and Paris police sent in the bomb squad and dogs to search for weapons and explosives, none of which were found.
The historic Grand Rex, which opened in 1932, claims to have the largest movie cinema in Europe, with its biggest screen seating up to 2,300 people. The French premiere of Joker was held there Oct. 8.
The Grand Rex’s management says they are pressing charges against the suspect. Speaking of Joker, they told Le Parisien: “The movie attracts a specific kind of viewer, notably people who are against the system. There have been minor incidents in other theaters.”
Now in its third week of release in France, the Todd Phillips film has brought in more than 3.5 million viewers thus far and remains number one at the French box office.
6:50 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional details about the screening from the director of the Grand Rex.
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