A cinema chain has climbed down over the banning of gang film Blue Story and is now showing viewings of the movie – amid accusations of racism.
Vue decided to stop showing the film – directed by Andrew Onwubolu – on Sunday after 25 ‘significant incidents’ were reported at its venues within 24 hours of the movie’s release.
The most noteworthy flashpoint was when a 100-strong machete-wielding gang descended on a Birmingham screening at Star City cinema on Saturday, which led to five teenagers being arrested.
Showcase Cinemas quickly followed suit and also banned the film, but have now backtracked and are proceeding with viewings.
It comes amid accusations the cinema chains were being ‘institutionally racist’ and ‘discriminatory’ by not showing the movie.
The film’s director, who goes by the stage name Rapman, defended Blue Story and said he hopes ‘blame is placed with the individuals and not an indictment of the film itself’.
Sheila Knowles, of BBE, an events company, told The Telegraph: ‘People are calling the ban discriminatory and institutionally racist.
Blue Story (cast pictured) is a tragic tale of a friendship between Timmy and Marco, two young boys from opposing postcodes in London
This shocking picture shows a young gang armed with a weapon and was circulated on social media after police descended on cinema complex Star City in Birmingham
‘A lot of people are very agitated because it seems like a systematic and targeted attack.’
And former gang member Sheldon Thomas, who founded Gangsline to combat gang culture said: ‘White people are always telling our story and for once it was good that Rapman [Andrew Onwubolu, the film’s director] told it from a black perspective.’
Vue has said it stands by its decision, claiming the film sparked 25 ‘significant’ incidents across 16 cinemas.
A spokesman for the cinema chain said: ‘The decision to withdraw Blue Story was not one taken likely or without careful consideration of our experience across the country.
‘The film opened in 60 of our sites across the UK and Ireland on Friday November 22, but during the first 24 hours of the film over 25 significant incidents were reported and escalated to senior management in 16 cinemas.
Blue Story director Andrew Onwubolu (pictured at the premiere) has claimed his film is about ‘love not violence’ after a machete-wielding gang descended on a Birmingham screening
‘This is the biggest number we have seen for any film in such a short time frame.’
The spokesman claims staff tried to bolster security but the unrest continued.
They said: ‘Despite a range of precautionary measures in place, including increased security, removal of late-night showings and reduced screenings of the film, the decision to withdraw Blue Story in its entirety was made on Saturday evening on grounds of safety alone.
‘While we are disappointed that these are the actions we have had to take, we hope it is understandable that we cannot, and 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.’
But Mr Onwubolu remained defiant, writing on Instagram today: ‘Sending love to all those involved in yesterday’s violence at Star City in Birmingham.
‘It’s truly unfortunate that a small group of people can ruin things for everybody. Bluestory is a film about love not violence.
‘There were also a few incidents earlier this year with the release of The Joker, it’s always unfortunate, but I hope that the blame is placed with the individuals and not an indictment of the film itself.
‘I pray that we can all learn to live with love and treat each other with tolerance and respect.’
Families were at the Nechells multiplex in Star City for the first opening Saturday of Frozen II when the machete-wielding gang turned up.
People were evacuated as Vue cinema managers closed the venue.
After the police swarmed the building around 5.30pm, they seized two machetes and a knife from a nearby roundabout.
A senior police chief said the disorder ‘may be the worst thing’ the responding officers had seen.
A brawl broke out at Star City cinema in Birmingham on Saturday night after a ‘group of people arrived with machetes’. Pictured: Crowds inside the cinema
Police rushed to the scene with guard dogs where they found a crowd of 100 people where fighting had started ‘in pockets’. It is also claimed that officers were carrying tasers
The message from Vue reportedly said: ‘We regret that we will no longer be screening the film Blue Story (pictured) at any of our venues’
Blue Story director Andrew Onwubolu, known as Rapman, (left) has said the gang film is about ‘love not violence’, after seven police officers were injured in a disturbance at a screening (right)
BBC Films described the film as an ‘outstanding, critically acclaimed debut feature which powerfully depicts the futility of gang violence.
‘It’s an important film from one of the UK’s most exciting new filmmakers which we’re proud to be part of.’
The film’s distributor, Paramount Pictures, said it was ‘saddened’ by events at Star City, but that it thinks Blue Story is ‘an important film’ that has had ‘incredibly positive reaction and fantastic reviews’.
A spokesman for Showcase Cinemas said: ‘The safety of our guests is of the utmost importance.
‘Due to the recent incidents tied to screenings of the film ‘Blue Story’, after careful consideration with the film’s distributor, Showcase Cinemas has immediately removed the film from our all of our participating cinemas.’
According to Birmingham Live, the message from Vue said: ‘We regret that we will no longer be screening the film Blue Story at any of our venues.
‘Should you have a booking for this film, please say cancellation when prompted and a member of our team will be with you shortly to assist you with your booking.’
A spokesman added: ‘We can confirm a decision was made to remove the film.
‘The safety and welfare of our customers and staff is always our first priority.’
Blue Story is a tragic tale of a friendship between Timmy and Marco, two young boys from warring postcodes in London who become friends but get caught up in gang violence.
Pockets of fighting erupted in a 100-strong crowd at the cinema after a ‘group of people arrived with machetes’.
Police officers were assaulted as they descended on the scene armed with guard dogs.
They had tasers, but police said they were not used.
Shocking footage shows young women appearing to push each other as officers try to get control of the situation.
Flashing blue lights are also seen as a group of at least eight officers stands on the pavement outside in front of a large crowd.
West Midlands Police said they would be making further arrests on Sunday or Monday.
Chief Superintendent Steve Graham said the force used by officers was ‘proportionate’, adding the disorder took 90 minutes to break up because police were not ‘heavy-handed’.
A dispersal order was issued to the group of about 100 people.
West Midlands police said some of the police officers were arrested when they arrived at the scene. They flooded the site as the major incident unfolded and cops put the cinema on lockdown
Mr Graham said it was ‘concerning’ that some of those involved were so young.
Addressing the safety of people in Birmingham, Mr Graham said: ‘Incidents of the scale of disorder we saw last night are rare, not just at Star City but also across the city and the broader West Midlands.
‘So if anyone is feeling unsafe I can understand in the immediate wake of that why they might do.
‘However Star City is still a safe place to go, Birmingham is still a safe place to go and it’s really important that our communities and families feel safe to come out and enjoy themselves.’
A 13-year-old girl, a girl and a boy, both aged 14, and a 19-year-old man were held on suspicion of assaulting police.
A 14-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of obstructing police.
Asked if he was concerned about the ages of those involved, Mr Graham said: ‘It is concerning, there’s no point pretending otherwise.
‘That’s why we’ve got plans in place, starting from first thing on Monday morning, where we’ll be sending neighbourhood policing officers into schools around Birmingham to try and find out why.
‘We know that Birmingham isn’t unusual in this. Let’s not pretend that knife crime or violence in the under 25s is rare or is just isolated around Birmingham.
‘There are no short-term fixes to this, so we’re prepared and we’re in this for the long run and we’re going to work with schools and other partners to prevent youth violence becoming an increasing problem.’
Asked where the incident ranked compared with other reports of disorder, Mr Graham said: ‘It’s always hard to gauge these sorts of things – but what I will say is incidents like last night are rare.
‘As for some officers who were there last night, it may be the worst thing they have ever seen.’
One witness said ‘a young boy was crying on the floor with his mother’ as a number of young people started fighting.
Rachael Allison said: ‘The police told everyone to leave the cinema as they held Taser guns in their hands and started to bring in guard dogs.
‘I spoke to a policeman who told me it is unclear whether the kids had weapons and also stated when kids fight they bring their group of friends.’
A group of at least eight police officers were pictured standing on the roadside at the cinema after police cars blocked off access to the venue
Another witness described it as ‘one of the scariest moments of [her] life’, as she queued to watch the new Frozen film with her daughter.
Choleigh McGuire said: ‘Armed police come, Tasers come, all of the people that were fighting ran off into the cinema, hiding. I am shaking.’
A woman, who claims she was at the cinema with her sister and niece on social media, said she was evacuated by police with tasers and dogs.
‘Horrendous being in that situation when it’s just you but when you’re with children, your family, absolutely terrifying’, she said.
‘Sickening to have to be evacuated by police with tasers and dogs when all you wanted to do was watch Frozen.’
Another woman told the Mirror: ‘That’s probably one of the scariest moments of my life.
‘Me and my daughter were in a queue to watch frozen, loads of little kids there, all dressed up and everything, then these girls jumped on another girl and loads of these kids just started fighting.
‘Armed police came with Tasers. All the people that were fighting run off into the cinema. There’s about 15 to 20 police cars. I’m shaking.
‘The police were very aggressive there was lots of little kids there.’
Groups were seen leaving the cinema complex which was evacuated and children who were at the cinema were being collected by worried parents
On Sunday morning, there were 50-minute waits for refunds for cancelled tickets.
A former Birmingham cinema manager has said the film’s distributor should consider pulling Blue Story out of all of the city’s cinemas in the wake of the fight.
Blue Story, a 15-rated film which came out on Friday, is a London gangland drama about two boys from different postcodes.
The 91-minute film was directed by Andrew Onwubolu aka rap artist Rapman.
Cineworld Broad Street and Odeon Broadway Plaza have also been screening the film but neither has said whether that will change.
Former city cinema manager Michael Mclean said: ‘If I was still running a cinema in Birmingham, I would personally make the call to London asking my bosses to pull this film – and the distributor should consider pulling it out of the city, too.
‘At the very least, only show it in daytime.
‘Cinema staff have an obligation to try to do the right thing (whenever any incident arises).
‘But they are not paid to deal with this kind of situation and if I was a manager I would not want to put them at risk – never mind families who just want to see Frozen II.
‘Young children should not be seeing this sort of behaviour in cinemas.’
A number of police officers rushed to the area after being called at 5.30pm. There were reports of machetes being wielded at the cinema
Blue Story was given a 15 certificate by the BBFC which included the following ratings info: ‘Very strong language, strong violence, threat, sex, drug misuse.’
It said the film was ‘a drama in which a friendship between two boys is jeopardised by gang violence’ and that it has ‘passed the work uncut.’
The BBFC added there was infrequent use of very strong language (‘c’) as well as strong language (‘f’) and other terms.
As for the violence, the BBFC said there were ‘shootings and stabbings, with resultant bloody detail. It is implied that two men hold a victim’s arm, while a third attacker breaks it with a stamp.’
Recalling his own fears about trouble in his cinema a decade ago, Mr Mclean said he had such doubts about Penny Woolcock’s film 1Day (2009) putting his staff at risk that he advised various cinemas across the city not to screen it.
The film explored rivalry in Birmingham and Mr Mclean had understood some real life gang members had been paid to be ‘advisors’.
‘I called our London office and told them what I thought the risks were,’ he said.
‘I also rang round all of the city cinemas and, in the end, nobody showed it.
”I knew what could happen if anyone did.
‘The night it opened in Wolverhampton, there was a stabbing.
‘If I was told I had to a show a film where I thought there was potential for trouble (inside the cinema) I would increase security at the door and only let in peoole who I thought would not be a problem.’
Five police cars pictured next to Star Cinema in Birmingham on Saturday night. It is understood that families and children had been there to see Frozen 2
Mr Mclean saw Blue Story on November 15 during an Unlimited screening at Cineworld Broad Street a week before its release.
‘The film is about gangland violence in London where two friends end up on rival sides and hunting each other down in a bid to kill the other,’ said Mr Mclean.
‘It is better made and with better performances than I expected, but I generally don’t like that kind of film.
‘Though not as violent as Joker, I felt that Blue Story glorified the violence and that there was no redemption – just when we have a massive crime situation going on across the country and in Birmingham city centre.
‘Having been in made in London along streets where I have walked, it seemed too close to home, to me.
‘I am surprised that something like this has happened at Vue Star City in one sense, but if there has been violence associated with this film then I am also not surprised.’
Mr Mclean added: ‘I can remember two previous massive incidents years ago at Star City including one when the cinema had to be shut down then.’
Although some screens have been mothballed, the complex was Britain’s biggest cinema with 30 screens.
Warner Village opened it on July 21, 2000, when director Wolfgang Petersen and stars George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg briefly flew in for the premiere of The Perfect Storm.
The site was later taken over by Vue Cinemas which launched a multiplex price war in May, 2018 when tickets bought on site were reduced to £4.99.
Two police cars pictured blocking off the entrance to Star City. The complex was then evacuated
A policeman pictured at the Star City around 5.30pm on Saturday following reports of a group wielding machetes at the venue
In May this year, an inquest jury recorded a verdict of accidental death after father-of-one Ateeq Rafiq, 24, died of a catastrophic brain injury after his head became wedged in an automatic footrest at the Vue Multiplex.
Mr Rafiq and his wife Ayesha Sardar went to the complex at 4.30pm on March 9, 2017, and had been sitting in Gold Class seats, screen 17.
Leading film magazine Empire said of the film: ‘It’s well told with a worthwhile, if not especially revolutionary message – gang wars are not worth dying for, and you don’t have to follow the cycle.’
International magazine Sight & Sound said Blue Story offered ‘Sobering scenes from the postcode wars* it’s confident work that crucially doesn’t condescend to the youth audience best placed to receive its sobering pacifist message.’
Industry magazine Screendaily.com said: ‘There’s something about Blue Story which is infectious. It might catch on. There’s a message in here, and if only the target audience shows up, Rapman’s job will have been done.
‘Meanwhile, he seems destined for bigger things.’
Blue Story is a tragic tale of a friendship between Timmy and Marco, two young boys from opposing postcodes.
Timmy, a shy, smart, naive and timid young boy from Deptford, goes to school in Peckham where he strikes up a friendship with Marco, a charismatic, streetwise kid from the local area.
Although from warring postcodes, the two quickly form a firm friendship until it is tested and they wind up on rival sides of a street war.
Blue Story depicts elements of Rapman’s own personal experiences and aspects of his childhood.
The messages he aims to send through his works are positive ones, aimed at inspiring kids from difficult backgrounds to turn away from local gangs.