Reports have emerged that AMC Theatres fired three of its employees after an incident erupted during a November 3 screening of “Harriet” in Metairie, Louisiana. As first reported by NOLA.com, a 6:20 p.m. showing at the AMC Clearview Palace 12 of the Harriet Tubman biopic turned into a chaotic scene that audience members allege was a case of racial-profiling.
Reportedly, theater employees interrupted the screening to address what they perceived to be a ticket mix-up among members of the audience — more than a dozen of whom represented 504 Queens, an African-American women’s nonprofit group. As the employees disputed whether certain patrons were in the correct seats, a manager ultimately had to be dispatched to confront them. Two different workers and a kitchen staff member were reportedly involved in the in-theater dispute. At one point, the movie was stopped and the house lights were turned on.
“I saw how people were looking at us,” Sandra Gordon, 65, told NOLA.com. “It was humiliating. Especially with the movie being shown. We were watching people being whipped, being shot in the head, their children being sold away from them. And then you shut down this movie, this emotional movie, and come to me about a ticket dispute? It felt like the 1800s again in 2019.”
“I was shocked. She was all in that woman’s (Gordon’s) face,” said audience member Brandon Mayo, who observed the theater employee who approached Gordon from a few rows back in the theater. “Some people yelled, ‘Take her out of here.’ As if she had done something to make them cut the movie off. I’m sure it was embarrassing.”
Regarding the perceived racially charged intent of the encounter, Gordon said, “It was half and half. Part racial, part didn’t-know-what-to-do ignorance. But it didn’t even have to go to that level.”
The incident sparked an internal investigation at AMC. “Based on our initial investigation, operational mistakes by the theater team led to this unacceptable and unnecessary disruption, and we are working with the theater to address what occurred,” said an AMC spokesman in a statement to NOLA.com. “We sincerely apologize to our guests in the theater for this disruption and for the frustration they experienced as a result of it.”
According to WDSU News, based out of New Orleans, AMC Theatres this week fired the three employees involved in the dispute after a letter from 504 Queens’ lawyer, sent on November 7, detailed the incident and outlined demands for a mea culpa from the theater chain.
Included among the letter’s demands were requests for free “Harriet” tickets for students in the local area, the donation of Black Friday profits from AMC to 504 Queens, and free AMC passes for 200 members of the group, as well as mandatory anti-racism training for theater staff, a written apology, and termination of the employees involved in the incident.
AMC complied with 504 Queens’ request, and will offer free screenings of the film for students at three AMC locations (Clearview, Elmwood, and Westbank) on November 20 and November 25. Additionally, AMC General Counsel and Senior Vice President Kevin Connor issued a letter on the company’s behalf, which is embedded below.
AMC Theatres has not responded to IndieWire’s request for comment.