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Cinema chain defends pulling gang film 'Blue Story' from UK theaters

Posted November 25, 2019 3:00 p.m. EST

— A UK cinema chain is defending its decision to pull gang-warfare film "Blue Story" from theaters, hitting back at accusations of bias and saying it documented more than 25 "significant incidents" at theaters within the first day of the film's opening.

Vue said a nationwide ban was appropriate after a massive brawl involving armed youths erupted outside a screening of "Blue Story" in Birmingham Saturday.

Showcase Cinemas announced Monday it would also be pulling the BBC-backed film, telling CNN that the safety of moviegoers was of the "utmost importance." However, on Monday afternoon showtimes for the film were still listed on Showcase's website.

The ban follows the brawl at Birmingham's Star City multiplex, where six teenagers, aged 13 to 19, were arrested following a riot involving up to 100 youths. Two machetes were seized during the disorder and seven officers were injured, West Midlands Police said.

"Blue Story," co-produced by BBC Films and Paramount Pictures UK, tells the story of two friends who find themselves on rival sides of a neighborhood gang war in south London. It's a timely film, as a rising number of young people in the UK are falling victim to gang violence and knife-related crime.

But some have criticized the decision not to show the movie.

Social commentator Patrick Vernon said there was no justification for the film's removal and BAME Lawyers For Justice, a group that advocates for ethnic minorities in England, has written an open letter demanding an explanation.

Vue told CNN in a statement Monday that, despite "a range of precautionary measures" such as increased security and fewer screenings of the film -- including a ban on late-night showings -- "Blue Story" was now being withdrawn in its entirety on the "grounds of safety alone."

The cinema chain said it was "disappointed" to take such action, but added it "will not take any risks with regard to the welfare and safety of our staff and our customers. Unfortunately, the actions of a significant few have spoiled the opportunity for others, but we stand by our decision to withdraw the film from our schedule indefinitely."

Vue said 25 "significant incidents" were reported to senior management in 16 of its 91 venues in the UK and Ireland.

But Vernon told CNN, "This is a powerful film which raises key issues and debates around identity, culture and, of course, issues around violence in the community."

Ife Thompson, a member of BAME Lawyers For Justice and founder of BLAM (Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health) Charity, has written an open letter to Vue demanding an explanation from the chain.

She told CNN that by drafting the letter the group is trying to ensure "there is accountability."

Vue has rejected claims the decision to withdraw the movie was based on "biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself."

The cinema chain described "Blue Story" as a "fantastic film ... that has the opportunity to change lives."

The film's writer-director Andrew Onwubolu, known as Rapman, has condemned the disturbance, insisting his film is "about love, not violence."

Onwubolu said on Twitter it was "truly unfortunate that a small group of people can ruin things for everybody." He said he hoped the "blame is placed with the individuals and not an indictment of the film itself."

BBC Films and Paramount Pictures UK both told CNN they were saddened by the violence and defended "Blue Story" for its portrayal of the "futility of gang violence."

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