SPRINGFIELD, Illinois – The chief executive of a theater chain said he will not screen a film about black college fraternities at any of his Springfield theaters this week out of fear it could trigger the kind of gang violence that erupted during another movie last month.
Tony Kerasotes of Kerasotes Theatres, a chain in the midwest, said he did not make his decision based on race but out of concern that "Stomp the Yard," a film about a dancing competition at a black college, would attract gang members.
"I was fearful the movie could become the occasion for more gang violence, because I felt certain it would draw that audience," Kerasotes said.
He said he feared a repeat of a shooting that occurred during a Christmas Day screening of "Black Christmas" at a Springfield theater. "Black Christmas" was a horror film and did not depict the black community.
But a local civil rights leader said the decision hurts black audiences, particularly black families that would be attracted to what he says is an uplifting film.
"We don't think this is going to attract young black males who are part of a gang," said Ken Page, president of the Springfield branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It would be good if it did, this is a positive movie, the message is you can go to school."
At the Christmas Day shooting, two groups of youths began fighting inside the theater and at least two fired shots in the theater's lobby, police said. One teen was shot in the pelvis during the melee that police say stemmed from a long-standing feud between two gangs.
One man has been arrested, but the investigation was continuing.
Kerasotes said he decided not to show "Stomp the Yard," in part, because people involved with the Christmas Day shooting were still at large.
"Kerasotes should have sat down with the mayor or the police chief and said 'We want you to make it safe to show all movies.' They're paid to do that," said Page.
Kerasotes said he would consider showing the movie in Springfield at a later date.
"Stomp the Yard" will be shown in more than 2,000 locations nationwide starting Friday, including more than 40 other Kerasotes-owned locations.