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Customers accuse AMC theater employees of racial profiling, AMC reacts by firing employees and donating to charity

2 years 10 months 1 week ago Thursday, November 21 2019 Nov 21, 2019 November 21, 2019 6:28 AM November 21, 2019 in News
Source: The Advocate
Photo: 504 Queens/The Advocate

METAIRIE - When a group of New Orleans women told AMC Theaters some of their staff demeaned them during a visit to the movies, the company reacted by investigating the incident, firing the three employees in question, and offering the customers a written apology.

According to The Advocate, a group of women who belong to a Metairie-based African American women’s empowerment organization called 504 Queens planned to go see the movie, ‘Harriet.’ So, they purchased 14 designated seats at AMC Clearview Palace 12 for a Nov. 3 screening of the film. 

Incidentally, ‘Harriet’ is based on the true story of Harriet Tubman, portraying her life as a young woman who escaped slavery and led other enslaved African Americans to freedom via a complex network of secret routes and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. 

But halfway through the film, the auditorium lights came on and the movie was stopped. A series of white theater employees approached the 504 Queens and, in front of everyone in the theater, repeatedly questioned them about a supposed ticket mix up.

One member of the group, 65-year-old Sandra Gordon, seemed to be targeted even more than the others. The employees challenged the validity of Gordon’s ticket several times, but each time she was able to prove she was in the correct seat. 

A few rows back, one man who had no affiliation with the 504 Queens watched the situation unfold, horrified by the way it was handled. 

He told The Advocate, “I was shocked. (An employee) was all in that woman’s (Gordon’s) face…Some people yelled, ‘Take her out of here,’ as if she had done something to make them cut the movie off.”

The episode left Gordon and other members of the women’s group thoroughly humiliated and feeling as though they'd been racially profiled.

Gordon says, “It was humiliating. Especially with the movie being shown. We were watching people being whipped, being shot in the head, their children being sold away from them. And then you shut down this movie, this emotional movie, and come to me about a ticket dispute? It felt like the 1800s again in 2019.”

Gordon and the 504 Queens chose not to keep the incident to themselves. Instead, they hired a lawyer and brought their complaint to AMC Theaters.

The company reacted by firing three of the employees involved and at the suggestion of the 504 Queens, offering up to 20,000 free tickets for high school students in Orleans and Jefferson parishes to watch 'Harriet.' 

The company also said it would create a training video for all employees and donate money from next week's “Black Friday” ticket sales and concessions at the Metairie theater to the Holiday Meals Program, a volunteer event headed by the 504 Queens.

The theater also apologized to the women, sending them a written plea, which stated in part, “We apologize for the several missteps and misunderstandings on behalf of our management and film crew that evening, to the serious and justified disappointment of the women you represent.”

Gordon is satisfied with the way AMC handled the complaint and is especially pleased that students will be able to watch 'Harriet' for free. She says she believes it will be a good learning experience to help them understand that even today people of color are often viewed suspiciously in ways white people rarely are.

Gordon, who grew up during segregation and recalls civil rights activists sitting in at lunch counters and movie theaters in an effort to assert their legal rights, says, “I want them (students) to realize that the struggles of the people who came before them gave them the freedom that they have, to eat and drink where they want to without harassment, and to vote in elections. I want them to realize how hard people fought for that.”

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