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Theater Ordered To Pay $80,000 For “Demeaning” Black Audience In Attendance For Tyler Perry Movie

Some patrons later said Stewart’s tone “was offensive and condescending, as if he were speaking to children.” And because the crowd, which had been well-behaved to that point, was “90 to 95 percent” black, some felt it was racist because it implied that blacks did not know how to behave in a movie theater.

Justices Randy J. Holland, Carolyn Berger and Jack B. Jacobs ruled the non-racial explanations for the announcement were reasonable and pointed to uncontested evidence that a week earlier Stewart had made the same announcement at a showing of the movie “Halloween” to a largely teenage audience.

So, I guess the math here states that a theater full of adult black folks seeing a “black movie” (in this case, a Tyler Perry movie) is equivalent to a theater full of teenagers seeing a Halloween flick. Just doing the math, based on the statements :)

The theater was ordered by the Delaware Supreme Court to pay close to $80,000 for violating the state’s Equal Accommodations Law, after Stewart a manager of the theater “demeaned a theater of black patrons by telling them to turn of cellphones, be quiet,  and remain in their seats prior to a 2007 showing of “Why Did I Get Married”.

The Court’s ruling states that while they didn’t believe the manager used “racist language,” the court determined that he “singled-out” a black audience, because he didn’t make similar announcements in other theaters that night.

Each plaintiff received $1,500 in damages.

I think this may be the first time a case like this has been filed and won… feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

This reminded me of a post from last year in which Denzel stared down some chatty audience members during a showing of Fences on Broadway, which he was starring in:

There are all these women coming to see me, to see this actor they like, and I appreciate that… But at some shows, women are carrying on and snickering too much. Like at our Mother’s Day performance. Some audience members wouldn’t stop talking during an Act II speech. So I walked down to the front of the stage and stared at them, silently, for 30 seconds. They stopped, and I went on,” Denzel said, talking w/ the New York Times about dealing with inappropriate, distracting reactions from audiences.

So, to re-visit this “black people don’t know how to act in the theater” meme, where do you fall? Are you one of those who likes to “get involved” in what’s happening on screen or on stage when you go to a movie or stage production? Or do prefer to sit quietly and watch?


29 comments to Theater Ordered To Pay $80,000 For “Demeaning” Black Audience In Attendance For Tyler Perry Movie

  • Zeus

    Your post on “Where do you prefer to do it” relates to this. More people are watching flicks at home because folks won’t shut the F up. Answering cell phones, always getting up to go the bathroom, etc.,

    I’m one of those who watches quietly and keeps my mouth shut during a film. Radical idea in the 21st century, I know. :)

    And let’s be honest, alot of US can’t seem to shut our damn mouths in the theater. :)

  • CJ

    Both. In some instances a “loud” audience makes the experience worthwhile. I have a feeling that I would not have enjoyed “For Colored Girls” nearly as much without all of the hoots, cackles, cheers, and moans from the audience. Most of the time for me, the theater is a no-talking zone. But I can’t help but whisper a “did you see that?” or “that’s the guy from…” to my companion every once in a while.

  • Jug

    Whoo boy! This thread might get thick.

    I don’t know the specifics of this particular case, but I do know what happens often in theatres. First, I have to say off top, the Denzel situation is quite pervasive, but it has nothing do with race. It has EVERYTHING to do with DECORUM. Film is the preferred medium of entertainment and since you cannot interrupt the performance of a film actor, only the enjoyment of the film patrons, film audience members have no qualms about talking, texting, rustling chips & so on during a performance. The sad thing is, there is a different idea of holding others responsible for their behavior in a film vs in a play (because you may get your ass whooped), that people let that behavior go on at the Cineplex. So when it moves on over to a live performance, it has nothing to do with race, it has everything to do with ignorance & lack of etiquette.

    You could make the argument that that sort of behavior is tolerated, even welcomed, in plays off the Christian Circuit (fighting to find a better term than the Chitlin’ Circuit), but the same thing happened with Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey, Hugh Jackman & Daniel Craig-ALL on Broadway. My money says that the offenders weren’t all Black. Again, not about race, about “rules”.

    Like being in the principal’s office, you understand from the git go that there are certain behaviors expected of you (same with Sunday Church, a wedding or a funeral) at a given time. You understand those rules walking in the door, unless those rules happen to be different for that particular situation. Unfortunately, people carry the SAME rules from venue to venue, instead of gauging the situation & acting accordingly. That way they feign ignorance “Why didn’t anyone tell me?!?” Bump that, YOU knew better, you saw everybody else being quiet, turning their cell phones off. Why the hell are you answering your phone talking louder than normal during the quiet scene, about what the f*ck you’re doing tonight?!? People get made when someone tells them they’re acting immature, if & when they are.

    For me, I have no problem with folks getting told to shut the fuck up, turn off your God Damn cell phones & keep your kids quiet or take them outside. You get that message before EACH and EVERY performance in a live’s just in a muuuch nicer way LOL My beef is “Say it to everyone”. Don’t single out a group, because you think they’re genetically predisposed to acting a fool. Because for real, we’ve all been to the 99¢ theatre and been like WTF?!? But we’ve been to the $12.50 joint (Arclight in L.A.) and felt the same way. And the contrary holds true, been to both of those sorts of venues & had a great experience. Keep it Even Steven & we’re good.

    Sorry, just get passionate about this topic LMAO

  • Alece

    Ditto Zeus! I love the feeling of watching a film as a shared experience in a theater but I prefer to watch films with a less “responsive” audience. It’s frustrating when you hear people physically and verbally respond to everything in the film! I know people (including me) get emotionally involved in what’s going on, but if it’s not a horror flick or a comedy, hold it in and discuss it afterward.

    But I do believe that the theater manager was wrong to make that announcement just for a Black audience. Kudos to the plaintiffs! They are going to use that $1,500 to buy a new outfit and a new weave (kidding, kidding…)

  • I refuse to see Black movies in the theater anymore. Too loud. Too many babies, too much up & down. Ill watch on Netflix or a bootleg site.

  • ChristianJoy

    Ok, I get it, Blk ppl are used to congregating in church where it’s ok to talk back, BUT its really simple: the theatre, movie or live is NOT church. Period. People paid their money to see the show, not you. And, furthermore, when it comes to live theatre, the main difference is THE ACTORS CAN HEAR YOU! So you’re pretty much saying “eff all the rehearsals and all the crew backstage and all the other paying patrons”. it’s just rude. simple as that.

  • Greg

    I’m assuming that you merely copied this story from NewsOne without doing any further checking. Unfortunately, NewsOne didn’t bother to click on the link at the end of their own story, or didn’t understand the original story in Delaware Online. The ruling of the Equal Rights Commission was OVERTURNED by the Delaware Supreme Court! The plaintiffs will not be getting any money. Here is the link to the story.
    The facts in your story were very convoluted, which is what caused me to do further digging. It is very important that you check your facts and sources carefully rather than just reprinting something that you find interesting. I enjoy your website, so please take this correction in the proper spirit. I believe that when you maintain a reputation of quality reporting and writing, you will help to maintain and boost the credibility and popularity of your website.

  • kemi

    I prefer to sit and watch quietly. I also avoid going to movies when they first premiere, after a week I’ll go to a matinee show, fewer people and it’s very quiet.

  • Greg

    @Tambay – I prefer to sit and watch without a lot of background noise. The one exception may be for comedies, when some feedback from the audience usually helps out the movie. And I see that my tone in the last part of my original comment may have seemed condescending. I apologize for that. I didn’t mean for it to come off that way.

  • Wes

    At my local theater, an usher or manager always comes to the front of the house before the show and gives the “turn off your phones and shut up” speech. I am absolutely in favor of this.

    However, there’s also different audience rules for different movies. When I go see a comedy or horror movie, I don’t expect silence. But when I see a drama, it’s the opposite. It depends on the mood and the film being shown, along with the general decorum of the audience you’re watching with. Bottom line, movie audiences of all sorts can be disrespectful and loud at inappropriate moments. It’s kind of a luck of the draw.

    The real problem here is theater management. One of the reasons I haven’t been to a movie in months is because after the speech at the beginning, I never see an usher in the theater. If there’s a problem with an audience member or projection, I have to leave the theater and find someone to deal with it, so I miss part of the movie. And people are rarely kicked out, at least in my experience. We need stricter rules in theaters, or people are going to continue to watch movies at home.

  • Jason

    Good for the patrons. And sense no one here was there don’t presume the audience was wrong.

  • Ina

    methinks the offended movie audience members doth protest too much! (^.^)

    I’m the quiet type (and an enforcer though it’s getting harder and harder and impossible in first run films) but I think there is all kinds of performativity (for better but usually worse)in movie audiences of all types. I frequent senior citizen (day time) shows and revival screenings at MOMA, Film Forum, and Walter Reade and have heard shouting matches and threats–not to mention a symphony of crumpling plastic bags! I’ve sworn never to attend another evening show at FF after dealing with the self-conscious hipsters ironically laughing during Every minute of their noir film screenings no matter what was happening. It was as if the audience was afraid that someone would think they were uncool and fooled by these old films. Or maybe it was to prove how knowledgeable they were. Question is Is the audience performance appropriate to the movie? There’s quirk and then just plain old rude.

  • Tony

    Interesting that all we know is the audience was mostly black and what was said that doesn’t seem to be offensive. How could that fly and win even if altered or changed later.

    But my question is this, “Was this an actual Magic Johnson’s Theater?” And many of the cineplex’s I have been to like that brilliant respectable ARCLIGHT Cinemas they come out and tell you to kill phones and mention if anything is wrong. That place is heaven. NOW, Magic Johnson’s theater is another story. Where you can watch Traffic (anti-drug film) and someone is blazzing up with a cloud of weed smoke stinking up the joint. Some folks don’t know how to act when the lights go out and silence is needed.

    But what can we do? Grit teeth and somehow to cancel out and delve into the performances. Recently saw For Colored Girls (tried to sit through it, was uncomfortablly shifting in seat) and the entire audience was black women. Then along came a white couple of about 80. You could hear a pin drop. Respected and quiet. The way to go is opening day matinee and aim for locations out of “the hood.”

  • i am at a loss for words. geez is this real?

  • “where do you fall? Are you one of those who likes to “get involved” in what’s happening on screen or on stage when you go to a movie or stage production? Or do prefer to sit quietly and watch”

    Well Tambay, I cannot tell a lie, my hand is raised. Although I am a basic “no talk zone – in movies” kind of guy, I have talked directly to the screen. For the most part (and I’ve said this before) it’s a cultural thang. Yes sir, I have yelled at the screen “DAMN FOOL, DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR”.

    Yelp, and I have to admit that I’ve carried my Hennessy, tucked tightly under my jacket, and took a sip during the movie.

    We all know (if you’re black and have lived in America) where to go, when to go, and what movie to see if one desires silence while watching a movie.

    Listen, if silence is desired, DO NOT go to “certain theaters” on opening night, at 8PM.

    On the flip-side, if a person’s cup of tea is pretentious laughter and polite (fake) applause, we know what side of town that can be found – 24/7.

    But I wonder if this is a “black” thang or a USA thing? I wonder how black folks act on the islands or in the UK, Canada and Japan?

    • JS

      I agree and disagree. I agree totally that if you are expecting a certain environment you need to choose your venue carefully. But I am totally against you saying this is a cultural thing…yelling at the screen and bringing alcohol into the theater. That’s not my culture.

      • JS, I understand your position, that’s why I posed the question.

        If it’s known to happen in certain “environments” that’s frequented by “certain” people of a certain hue, then what are we dealing with.

        I mean, I don’t know what “culture” you’re aligned with, but it’s evident to me (and I assume most individuals) that black folks from 8 to 80 are more demonstrative in movie theaters, than other races. AND, to a large degree, it’s accepted and expected behavior in many areas of the USA!

        So JS, you tell me if my observations are wrong.

        Pick a side, pick a culture and then tell the truth. Tis is, or tis it ain’t a cultural thing? I am just asking the question. I may not agree with, or condone everything my brothers and sister do, but I cannot turn my head and say it does not happen, ie “That’s not my culture”

        It may not be YO culture, but it seems to happen among a particular group of individuals, more often than it does in “other” cultures. And excuse me, because that’s a fact. If not, we wouldn’t even be discussing the issue.

  • JS

    I guess the question is, do we think the theater is in the wrong? I say no. I would assume that if there were no past complaints or issues in the theater there would be no need for that type of announcement. Patrons do complain later regarding disturbances and either ask for their money back or never return. It’s not good for business. It’s not good for film makers as well (especially films targeting the AA audience, that’s why Notorious was denied in certain theaters. There was a shooting in LA at a showing of Notorious) Even if there are no past complaints there is such thing as preventive measures to avoid poor customer services. An example of enforcing preventive measures would be the Arclight franchise. Regardless of the movie they come into the theater as ask that everyone silence their phones and be respectful to others. I have no quarrel with this.

    I read another post in the THR that ( in my words: an over zealous) the director of Delaware’s Human Relations Division was the person who brought the racism issue to the attention of the audience.

    But it saddens me that we have people posting comments that being ignorant is part of our culture.

    • Did you call?

      My remark saddens you?! Oh my tender hearted friend. It may be a tough titty that saddens your blinded eye. But if you do not believe or understand that within every culture, there are the good, the bad and the blind closed eye, I would suggest that you may be living in a dream world.

      Again, don’t take my words as condoning ignorant behavior. By default (we’re talking about it) we are agreeing that said behavior happens more often, in a particular culture and/or subgroup. So regardless if YOU are, or do NOT desire to be classified in that group, it does NOT mean that said culture does not exist.

      So, look deep in your heart and tell me – and yourself – why you are sadden at the behavior of some people in a theater?

      Btw, before you answer, tell me (so we can see what we are working with) will you agree that being ignorant, happy, stupid, loud, talks with hands, sad, trustworty, and being an exceptional student and athelete, can be “part” of a culture?

      • Ya’ll mean that the little AMC clips with the cellphone don’t cause people to turn their phones off? How ironic.
        Interesting discussion. I think you are talking about two different things here. One of you is discussing race and the other is culture. IT’s easy to fly off the handle between the two of those things. In reading all of this, it doesn’t sound like anyone is condemning a race. However, there’s a portion of various races that might act a fool. And let’s be real. There are places in every city that people won’t go to at night whether it is downtown, rural, or the projects. Many people were afraid to go to Magic Johnson Cinemas, day or night, because they were predominately in the hood. We also know where not to drive because of speedtraps. You all have seen speedtraps, right?

  • mumblerlbg

    I like a quiet theatre with the dialogue coming from the screen not the audience, I am not interested in a participatory audience experience, I am there to see and hear a movie.

  • @ JS, lets see if we can come to some type of understanding.

    It’s a fact that some folks (black folks) go to a movie knowing full well what the environment will be like. And, they expect to join in.

    Now, let’s look at the audience of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” . Damn, look at those ignorant fools dressed like freaks. Look at them repeating every line like they’ve lost their damn mind. Them MFers do that sh*t every f**kin’ month. But wait, although there may be a few POC in the crowd, it’s a house full of white folks. Oh lawdy lawdy, I would be so sadden if someone said that was a part of “MY” culture.

    Now, lets go down the hall and peek in at a bunch of silly and ignorant white kids and their mommas – dressed in costumes – as they watch Harry Potter and say a line before the actor. Some folks would call that ignorant behavior. Good golly miss molly, I am so glad that’s not my culture. *wink*

  • brotherThee

    Sometimes I feel like a nut; sometimes I don’t. I’ve viewed thought provoking films in an attempt to watch from a true cinematic perspective and all but dared fellow moviegowers to utter a word. I’ve also gone to the movies on opening night w/ friends (beers in tow) and been the main fool in the theater. I believe it comes down to the type of film and your reason for watching in the first place. Maybe it’s just me but I see a distinct difference in both motive and viewing experience expectations between Spike’s ‘Malcolm X’ and Ice Cube’s ‘Player’s Club.’ Justsayin’.

    • Say it loud my brother! I like you. Ain’t no shame in your game. Sometimes it’s simply a fact… Don’t fight the power.

      Que Sera, Sera,
      Whatever will be, will be
      The future’s not ours, to see
      Que Sera, Sera
      What will be, will be.
      Take yo beer and be free… from the opinions of snobs.

  • JS

    LOL, my friend The Rocky Horror Picture show is a musical with a cult following that condones all of their antics. This comparison is not proving your point. This also relates to Harry Potter. I went to the last Harry Potter film and they were dressed up and the whole nine but I tell you what, when a bunch of teens started to act rowdy they shut down that non-sense with the quickness.

    Like I stated before choose your venue carefully.

    But we have a different understanding of what the word or meaning behind “culture” really represents.

    • Okay, I am with you. We will stay divided on the issue of “culture”.

      But now I see the light. You’re a Harry “scary” Potter head. *giggle*