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Two U.K. cinema chains have pulled screenings of Paramount’s London-based gangland drama Blue Story following a brawl at an entertainment complex over the weekend, in which seven police officers were injured.
Authorities were called to the Star City multiplex in Birmingham on Saturday after reports of youths brandishing machetes. Police used a dispersal order to clear around 100 youths from the venue, with five teenagers arrested. Video footage from inside the cinema appeared to show fights breaking out and people on the floor screaming.
Although the incident took place in the lobby of the theater and not during a screening, cinema giant Vue responded by removing Blue Story from all of its U.K. theaters, with Showcase cinemas later following suit. Exhibition giant Odeon is reportedly reviewing security measures.
The directorial debut of Brit rapper-turned-filmaker Andrew Onwubolu (better known as Rapman) and based on his hit 2017 YouTube miniseries Shiro’s Story, Blue Story — developed by BBC Films — focuses on two London friends who become rivals in local gang wars. Starring Stephen Odubola and Michael Ward — most recently seen playing the eponymous character in Netflix’s Top Boy — the film, according to Rapman, offers a different perspective on the U.K.’s gangland culture.
“I want people who see the film to learn that these kids are not all spawns of Satan,” he told the BBC. “They didn’t come from child abuse or neglectful mothers. What kids go through in the school playground is so intense, it all starts there.”
In response to the violence, Rapman said he was “sending love” to all those involved. “It’s truly unfortunate that a small group of people can ruin things for everybody,” he wrote on Instagram. “Blue Story is a film about love not violence. I hope that the blame is placed with the individuals and not an indictment of the film itself. I pray that we can all learn to live with love and treat each other with tolerance and respect.”
Vue’s decision was met with widespread criticism, with many saying that the kids involved in the brawl weren’t old enough to watch the film and blaming the cinema’s own security. Others branded the cinema racist in choosing to blanket ban a predominantly black film because of a single incident that didn’t even take place in a screening.
However, on Monday Vue cinema issued a further statement, saying it stood by its decision claimed that the brawl on Saturday hadn’t been the only incident connected to the film.
“The decision to withdrawn Blue Story was not one taken lightly or without careful consideration of our experience across the country,” it said. “The film opened in 60 of our sites across the U.K. and Ireland on Friday 22nd November, but during the first 24 hours of the film over 25 significant incidents were reported and escalated to senior management in 16 separate cinemas. This is the biggest number we have ever seen for any film in such a short time frame.”
Despite the controversy, Blue Story still managed to drum up some solid figures for a debut feature for a largely unknown director. It earned £1.3 million ($1.67 million) over the weekend from 310 locations, landing third spot on the box office table behind Last Christmas and Frozen 2, which broke U.K. records for an animation with an opening haul of £15.1 million ($19.5 million).
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