AMC Theatres, the largest chain of movie theaters in North America, is finally set to reopen its doors next month. With the coronavirus pandemic still going strong, AMC Entertainment announced plans to reopen 450 of its more than 600 locations on July 15, marking the first time the chain will have been ready for business in about four months. The company also teased some of the safety measures they are implementing… and those they are not.
While speaking with Variety, AMC Adam Aron said, “We didn’t rush to reopen. There were some jurisdictions in some states, such as Georgia and Texas, that allowed people to reopen theaters in mid-May. We opted to remain closed, so we could give the country time to get a better handle on coronavirus. We wanted to use this time to figure out how best to open and how to do so safely.”
That reflection has led AMC to come up with plans for reduced seating capacity—beginning with theaters being 30 percent full and gradually working their way up to 50 percent capacity on an unspecified time table—and “encouraged” contactless and cash-free concessions. However, when it comes to actually wearing masks, one of the procedures the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stressed in new guidelines is pivotal in reducing the spread of COVID-19, the chain will only require its employees to wear the masks. Moviegoers are free to cough on each other in a closed space at their heart’s content!
“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” said Aron. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example.”
But the CEO’s insistence that he is avoiding “political controversy” exemplifies an acute degree of moral cowardice. The suggestion that masks are “political” and not a scientifically proven necessity for public health belies claims of placing public health first above the dollar. And offering to sell masks for $1 a pop at their theaters, which AMC is doing, will not stop those who “believe strongly” in not wearing them from being a potential danger to everyone else.
But then AMC may be calculating—much like Cinemark before them—that they need all the dollars they can get. Despite being the largest chain in North America, AMC Entertainment confirmed earlier this month that there is “substantial doubt” the company will be able to stay in business during the coronavirus pandemic. This is due to the fact that AMC was already $5 billion in debt before COVID-19 forced their 600-plus locations to close up shop in March. S&P Global subsequently suggested a default on their credit was imminent.
Clearly the hope is to turn this around by reopening in July in time for Disney’s Mulan and Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, both of which are expected to release at the end of the month on July 24 and July 31, respectively. While this theoretically could change for both films—although Nolan is eager to see his film released in cinemas this summer so as to protect the theatrical experience—movie theaters like AMC’s locations are desperate to have them open soon and reestablish the excitement of going to the movies.
AMC is additionally partnering with the Clorox Company and current and former faculty members of Harvard University’s School of Health for cleaning procedures, which will include deploying electrostatic sprayers, HEPA vacuums, and upgraded MERV 13 ventilation filters, which are intended to reduce airborne particles. They’ll need ‘em.
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