Blue Story: UK cinema ban called ‘institutionally racist’

Stephen Odubola, Rapman and Micheal Ward

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The film’s stars Stephen Odubola (left) and Micheal Ward (right) pose alongside director Rapman

“Institutionally racist”, “a negative bias”, “a systematic and targeted attack”.

These are some of the ways a ban on Rapman’s Blue Story by two UK cinema chains has been described.

Vue and Showcase Cinemas saw a backlash to their decision to pull the film after a fight broke out at a Vue cinema in Birmingham on Saturday.

Both chains say it was made to ensure the safety of customers. Showcase has since reinstated the film, although with extra security.

It’s after some people had been asking why one brawl affected the whole of the country.

West Midlands Police said the force did not ask for or recommend the film be pulled following Saturday’s violence.

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Media captionBlue Story is the tale of two friends who become rivals

Vue says the decision to withdraw the film “was not one taken lightly or without careful consideration”.

It says the film opened across 60 of its sites on Friday, but during the first 24 hours over “25 significant incidents were reported and escalated to senior management in 16 separate cinemas”.

“This is the biggest number we have ever seen for any film in a such a short time frame.”

It says the film wasn’t pulled based on “biased assumptions”.

Showcase told Newsbeat: “We took the decision to temporarily suspend screenings to enable us to assess the situation. After careful consideration we have come up with a plan to re-instate screenings of the film supported with increased security.”

What’s the backlash?

Blue Story follows the life of Timmy who lives in Lewisham but goes to school in Peckham – two parts of south-east London that have a notorious gang rivalry.

Its director Rapman said the film is about “love not violence”.

“People are calling the ban discriminatory and institutionally racist,” Sheila Knowles, who’s 24 and runs black events company BBE, tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“A lot of people are very agitated because it just seems like a very systematic and targeted attack.

“I feel like this is just a way of them masking the reasoning behind the decision – we haven’t seen the conclusive evidence behind these claims.”

Some people on Twitter have questioned why Blue Story has been pulled when that didn’t happen to The Dark Knight Rises.

A mass shooting – which killed 12 people – took place during a screening of the Batman film in the US in 2012 – but it remained in cinemas.

William Adoasi, 29, saw the film last week and says it’s “incredible”.

“If anyone’s actually seen Blue Story, they realise that it shows how empty the gangster lifestyle is and and how that street lifestyle is actually robbing people of friendships and relationships.”

He says the decisions made by Vue and Showcase highlighted “negative biases instantly”.

“If a white filmmaker created a film, and it caused an uproar, people would not attribute that to all white people,” he says.

But Errol Lawson, a reformed gangster from Birmingham, said the film was “stirring up” violence.

“The spirit behind it is stirring up this undercurrent, or supporting or fuelling this undercurrent, this narrative of violence, youth violence and disregard for life,” he said.

Sheila compares the Blue Story ban to the lack of response to claims there was a rise in anti-Muslim incidents in 2015 following the release of US war film American Sniper.

“It’s just showing that you know, we’re not going to value your art as much as we’re going to value mainstream white art,” she says.

“It just really reinforces the idea that black British art is a threat.”

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Rapman told Newsbeat he hoped people who don’t know much about gang culture would see Blue Story

And both Sheila and William are concerned about how this might impact on young black creatives and entrepreneurs.

“This may may slow down the production of people’s art and it may even put off investors,” says William.

“If I wanted to now create a film, an investor’s going to think twice about investing into my project, because they’ve seen another young black person’s film get shut down.

“Unfortunately for us, within our demographic, if one person gets shut down, people often view that as a representation of all.”

On the weekend, the hashtags #NoBlueNoVue and #BoycottVue were trending on Twitter.

Vue says the decision to pull Blue Story was not based on “biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself”.

In a statement it added: “Blue Story is a fantastic film and one with a very powerful message. It is a film that has the opportunity to change lives. We hope that Blue Story achieves the success it deserves and importantly its message does not get lost.”

How often are films pulled?

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The Hunt, featuring Hillary Swank, was due to be released on 27 September

It’s rare for a film to be taken out of the cinema after it’s been classified and released.

In September, a film called The Hunt – a satirical thriller about a group of people in the US who are being hunted by rich people for fun – was pulled from cinemas by its distributor before it was released.

One cinema in California reportedly cancelled screenings of the Joker after a “credible” threat was made.

Paramount – which is the distributor for Blue Story – says it is “saddened” by the events in Birmingham but said the movie was “important”

“We feel that this is an important film, which we’ve seen play in more than 300 cinemas across the country, with incredibly positive reactions and fantastic reviews.”

What have big UK cinema chains said about Blue Story?

Showcase Cinemas says safety is their priority, but that their choice to not show it was only temporary.

“We took the decision to temporarily suspend screenings of Blue Story to enable us to assess the situation,” says a spokesperson.

“After careful consideration and discussions with the distributor in the last 24 hours, we have come up with a plan to re-instate screenings of the film supported with increased security protocols.”

Vue said the decision to remove the film was because “the safety and welfare of our customers and staff is always our first priority”.

It denied claims that its decision was made because of any racial bias.

“This decision is not, as some have alleged, based on biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself,” the chain says in a statement.

“Blue Story is a fantastic film and one with a very powerful message. It is a film that has the opportunity to change lives. We hope that Blue Story achieves the success it deserves and its message does not get lost.”

Odeon has said while it is not withdrawing the film, it has “a number of security measures in place” for Blue Story screenings.

Newsbeat has contacted Cineworld for a comment.

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