Stocks for one of the most popular movie chains in the U.S. were soaring Monday because it announced plans to reopen some of its theaters this week. That was true despite the same movie chain having been sued this month by a Black man for an irrefutable case of racial discrimination he was subjected to at a theater a little more than two years ago.
AMC Theaters made no mention of the racial discrimination lawsuit that was filed by prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump on behalf of Larry Shelton, who recorded his racist encounter with theater staff at a location in Phoenix, Arizona in 2019. Instead, a statement attributed to AMC Entertainment’s chief executive officer painted a rosy picture of optimism even as the company reported it lost $4.6 billion in revenue because of the pandemic.
“This past year has presented AMC with the most challenging market conditions in the 100-year history of the company, AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron said in a statement released Monday without addressing the serious allegations of racism it is facing.
AMC said it planned to reopen several of its theaters in southern California, including Los Angeles and Burbank. The other 23 AMC theaters in the area are scheduled to reopen by Friday.
The announcement came as states begin to relax guidelines for the coronavirus pandemic and businesses begin to reopen.
But any celebration of resuming business as usual may come across to some as being short-sighted considering AMC remains facing a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a high-profile civil rights attorney who specializes in cases where race is the central issue.
The case that should worry AMC stems from Shelton’s encounter with theater staff that falsely accused him of sneaking in a movie without paying.
Shelton said during a press conference on March 3 announcing the lawsuit that he has been experiencing anxiety and has not entered a movie theater since the encounter on March 10, 2019. He said it’s caused him to experience flashbacks of his youth growing up in the inner city when he was constantly harassed by police officers.
“That same feeling came upon me during this situation,” Shelton said before adding later: “I just want justice to be done.”
Shelton said he went out of the theater to refill his drink in the middle of a movie. But when he returned to the theater and tried to come back in, the manager accused him of trying to sneak in. He told the manager he bought a ticket, advised him to check surveillance footage for confirmation and continued back to his seat.
That’s when a theater security guard confronted Shelton and made the same accusation.
Watch the video below.
Unbeknownst to Shelton, the manager called the police, who entered the theater to escort him out.
That’s when Shelton was forced to “fight against the presumption of guilt,” as Crump put it, just to prove his innocence despite the absence of any proof or evidence of any wrongdoing.
After the police asked, Shelton produced his ticket stub, which was reluctantly verified by the theater manager.
But the manager, who previously said he was “100% sure” Shelton sneaked in, still said Shelton had to leave and asked the police to ecort him off the premises.
At the time, Shelton could be heard on the video he recorded prophetically telling the manager, “This is gonna be bad for y’all.”
Attorney Jasmine Rand said the incident was racist.
“This white male manager was acting out of racial bias,” Rand said. “He was determined he was going to kick Mr. Shelton out of the movie theater that day because he was Black.”
Rand said AMC apologized and announced plans for racial bias training for its staff. But that’s not enough, Rand said
“This is not about a single case,” Rand pointed out. “It is about equal rights and equal justice to public accommodations to African Americans.”
Rand added: “We want to make sure we pursue all of Mr. Shelton’s rights to make sure AMC no longer discriminates against people of color.”
Crump said there needs to be accountability for those kinds of defamatory and damaging actions.
“When you think about — in that moment — how the AMC Movie Corp. made this African American law abiding citizen feel, we have to speak to these issues to say that we deserve better and we demand better. We’re demanding better for the pain and harm they caused,” Crump said at the press conference. “If he had resisted, this could have had a much more tragic ending. That’s why we’re fighting. That’s why we’re filing this lawsuit.”