Director's Plan to Charge White Men Higher Movie Ticket Prices Sparks Uproar

Shiraz Higgins

Shiraz Higgins proposed that a theater charge white men more to see his film, 'Building the Room.'

A Canadian film director is facing a backlash after proposing that a theater charge white men more at the box office to see his documentary about stand-up comics.

Shiraz Higgins initially wanted to charge white males $20 to attend a Sept. 28 premiere at the Roxy Theater in Victoria, British Columbia, for his film, Building the Room, while women would pay $10 at the box office. After an initial media uproar, Higgins on his blog, lowered the price for "White Cis-Straight Able-Bodied Males" to $15, with everyone else to pay $10.

Higgins told The Hollywood Reporter his "justice-pricing" model, which has always been voluntary and was never intended as a publicity stunt, aimed to spark a conversation about income inequality. What he got instead was a swift backlash in the form of a tweetstorm and trolling against the director and his film cast and crew, including "racist attacks" and death threats.

"It's gone so far beyond what it was intended to be," Higgins said of the backlash, which grew after the director chose to initially use a false name, Sid Mohammed, in early media interviews and on an email account. 

What followed was a cascading series of events and reactions that have landed Higgins and his film in hot water. "It was never intended to be a national conversation. It's a local screening, featuring an unknown cast of comedians, from an unknown director, in an little-known city. For some reason, the national media thought it was a story that needed to be run far and wide," the director said.

Building the Room is a 70-minute documentary-style movie that takes viewers behind-the-scenes as a group of local comedians develop and stage a stand-up comedy show. In the film, Comedians Ben Fawcett, Chelsea Lou, Darcy Collins, Myles Anderson, Shane Priestley and Shawn O’Hara work to put together their show in the apartment and workshop of performer and artist Jimbo Insell.

Financing for the documentary came in part from Telus Optik, an IPTV service invests in local film projects. Higgins said he never intended to keep white men, or anyone, away from his film screening.

"This is a majorly flawed pricing model, that's making people angry," he said. So he's working on a new ticket-pricing model less focused on white males, without giving details. On his blog, Higgins called on the email death threats to stop.

“That kind of behavior doesn’t solve any problems," he wrote. Higgins in an interview said he's not expecting any security issues at the Roxy Theater screening next week.

"I'm of the mind to be careful, but I'm not taking these things too seriously at this point," Higgins said. The director rented the Roxy Theater hall for his film screening from the Blue Bridge Theater Society, which distanced itself from the unusual ticket-pricing model.

"...Neither the ticket prices nor the policies governing them have been established by us. Blue Bridge was not, at any time, consulted regarding these policies and, had it been, would not have agreed, nor will it ever agree, to policies that are discriminatory towards any person," the theater society said in an emailed statement.

"Nonetheless, while we deny any responsibility for the policies established by the organizers of Building the Room, we are deeply regretful for any offense that these policies may have caused any individual," the statement added.

Sept. 21, 12:45 p.m. Updated with a statement from the Blue Bridge Theater Society.