New York Movie Theaters Use Marquees to Berate Gov. Andrew Cuomo

The Regal E-Walk in New York Times Square. Oct. 9, 2020
Courtesy of Peter McClintock

The governor won't allow cinemas to reopen even though indoor dining, gyms and other public-facing businesses have been allowed to resume operation.

The latest release playing at a New York movie theater? The battle between exhibitors and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Frustrated exhibitors across New York are using their marquees to send a very public message to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose administration has yet to allow cinemas to reopen.

Late this week, the Regal E-Walk in New York City's Times Square installed a new message on its marquee: "48 states have reopened theaters so far. Why not New York, Gov. Cuomo? #ReopenOurCinemasNY."

Joseph Masher, president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Theatre owners, said the Regal E-Walk signage is part of a statewide initiative attempting to bring attention to the issue.

Circuits say they have spent millions of dollars on new protocols addressing safety in the COVID-19 era, yet the Cuomo administration has yet to allow cinemas to flip on the lights in New York even while allowing indoor restaurants, gyms, churches and other public-facing businesses to resume operation.

New Mexico also hasn't allowed movie theaters to reopen. Several other states, including California, where Los Angeles circuits remain dark, have allowed partial reopenings depending on the county.

"We are owed an answer. We've answered every question. He said theaters would be next, but that was almost a month ago. And then crickets," says Masher.

The initiative was the brainchild of the historic Aurora Theatre in East Aurora, New York, Masher explains. Earlier this week, the cinema posted the above message to Gov. Cuomo on its marquee, Masher says. (The Aurora went further and on a second marquee said, "playing nothing. Starring nobody."

The conflict between Cuomo and exhibitors took a very public turn when Cineworld, parent company of Regal, announced Oct. 4 it is once again closing its U.S. and U.K. locations because of a lack of new product. Cineworld said that without New York in play, Hollywood studios will continue to delay their tentpoles. In turn, cinemas can't stay open if there are no event pics.

Both John Fithian, president-CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, and Cineworld chief Mooky Greidinger called out Gov. Cuomo in separate press interviews.

Richard Azzopardi, senior adviser to Cuomo, responded to the criticism in a tersely worded statement: "We understand some people are unhappy, but you know what? Better unhappy than sick or worse," he said. "We're moving heaven and earth trying to stop a second wave and people need to acknowledge that we're still in a pandemic and start to act like it."

Fithian shot back, telling THR that New York is “out of touch.”