I’ve written mostly about movies for Real Change at this point, so you could guess that I’m a cinephile (def: a person who really likes movies. What’d you think it meant?). Nevertheless, according to a wide range of public health experts, even the most committed cinephiles should stay away from theaters right now.
Last Tuesday, the A.V. Club and several other news outlets that cover entertainment and review films came out with pieces explaining why they wouldn’t review the latest film from Disney/Marvel (formerly the Fox), “The New Mutants.” Similarly, critics have declined to review Christopher Nolan’s latest time-bending sci-fi movie, “Tenet,” because the only way for them to review it was to buy a ticket and go see the film. According to critics and studio insiders, the studios could’ve sent “screeners,” digital pre-release copies of the film, for the critics to review, but they have chosen not to.
In other words, Hollywood doesn’t seem to care about the risk of infection for critics or audiences. They are doubling down. Like Russell Crowe said in a new ad for his new film “Unhinged,” which also releases at the end of this month: “I’m not fucking with you. It’s going to be in cinemas. Off you go.”
Cinemas are open in about 44 states right now, and most notably, they are closed in huge markets like New York and Seattle for safety reasons.
Releasing films into theaters in the United States and elsewhere right now is a horrible idea according to most medical experts. In an interview with the A.V. Club, Dr. Anne W. Rimoin, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center For Global And Immigrant Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “Short of renting out an entire theater, which is obviously not an option for most of us, there is no scenario in which going to a movie theater is a good idea.”
The coronavirus is transmitted in little droplets and particles when we talk, laugh or exhale. A movie theater creates an optimal environment for spreading the coronavirus if you are infected and asymptomatic.
Why are movie studios insistent on doing a theatrical release, and why are AMC and Regal Theatres rushing to open? Money … duh!
Let’s start with the obvious: The rise of streaming services and films have threatened movie theaters. Since the rise of these alternatives, many moviegoers have opted instead for watching films from the comfort of their own couch, rather than the whole cinema experience. Before coronavirus (hereafter “BC”), the majority of movie patrons either strongly preferred or mildly preferred to see movies in theaters. The number of people who prefer streaming at home was still a cause for concern for the industry, and after the onset of coronavirus (hereafter “AC”), the number has significantly gone up.
Movie theaters are experiencing an existential threat to their existence. According to Forbes, AMC Theaters posted a $2.4 billion loss in the first quarter of 2020 and has had to lay off and furlough over 600 employees nationwide. That’s just for the biggest movie theater chain in the nation.
Now enter movie studios. Movies aren’t cheap to make, which is not a surprise to many, but for us viewers, we don’t think of the hundreds of millions of dollars that it takes to make a Hollywood blockbuster. Do you think that Hollywood wants to sacrifice that cash on the table? Hell no. They are more than willing to allow you and your entire family to contract coronavirus in order to make their money back on their investment — with profit, of course.
Cliff, you say, What about “Mulan” and Universal’s films? Those are going to video on demand or being released as in-person and online hybrids! Well, reader, you are correct, they are — as a temporary measure. In March, Universal Studios announced it would release its films through video on demand in response to the coronavirus. In this time, there have been on demand releases of small films and a few for which a studio would expect a crowded theatrical release, and there have been limited in-person series and events. However, on-demand release is still rare for major movies.
After Universal Picture’s on-demand foray, AMC struck back with a ban on the studio’s movies. The ban lasted three months; Universal and AMC came to an agreement to allow Universal to release its films on demand within three weeks of their theatrical releases.
In early August, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that “Mulan” would premiere on its new streaming service, Disney+, and be available to subscribers, who are already paying $6.99 per month for the service, for a one-time charge of $29.99. Many have denounced this move for financial or sociopolitical reasons, and Chapek described this as a one-off decision. This may affect how other movies are released, and according to some reports, Chapek and Disney see this as essentially an experiment to see if it’s financially feasible to do this during the pandemic.
Movie studios may be either forced to — or see an opportunity to — release their films to streaming services they own (or have affiliation with or control over) and bypass theaters all together. Nevertheless, your health is caught in the middle due to politics. If you have been living in this dimension — and not the RNC/Trump Campaign event’s imagined America — unlike in other developed nations, the U.S. has not had a robust national strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The effort has devolved into a state-by-state approach, where states are either taking aggressive measures or sacrificing the lives of their citizens all for the sake of “the economy” (**cough**kissing Trump’s tush**cough**party politics). Therefore, due to this national willful negligence, states have had a patchwork of re-openings.
Here in Washington state, there are a little more than a dozen counties in Phase 3, which allows theaters to run at 25 percent capacity. While this is allowed, it’s inadvisable, and Hollywood knows it but is OK with rolling the dice and sacrificing you at the altar of profit — and movie theaters aren’t going to get help from Stimulus Sam, who will be in Eric Trump’s car trunk tied up, with Mitch McConnell refusing to let Sam out.
Therefore, you have to vote with your dollars as well as your ballot this year. If movie studios see that there is a profit to be made with VoD releases, then we can start seeing them released onto streaming services so we can experience culture without having to risk our lives. Likewise, this is just a small fraction of the economic and cultural damage that is being done by Washington D.C.’s capricious inaction, and well, if we want it to stop, then you know what you gotta do: Vote.
Read more in the Sept. 2-8, 2020 issue.