Not one case of COVID-19 traced to moviegoing, anywhere in the world
Here’s another in a series of periodic reminders: No one has traced a single case of COVID-19 to the movies, anywhere in the world. But don’t just believe me and my random Google searches. The website Celluloid Junkie, which appears to employ better investigative reporters than me, undertook an exhaustive survey of global cinemas and COVID-19. They found nothing. Despite 100 million cinema visits since the start of the pandemic, there have been no COVID cases related to movie theaters. Not one.
In Asia, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan never shuttered their cinemas at any point in the pandemic. A South Korean study surveyed the landscape between February and mid-September. They found that 49 people confirmed COVID-19 positive went to the movies during that time. But there were no transmissions. The article also points out instances in Germany, the U.K., and Singapore where COVID-19 infected people went to the movies. But these also led to no outbreaks.
Study after study have shown that movie attendance is relatively safe. The University of California Davis, located in the state with the tightest COVID-19 restrictions in the country, concluded in June that going to the movies is a low-risk activity as far as COVID-19 goes. A German study in July concluded basically the same thing. No matter where or when people conduct the studies, the results are the same: It’s fine.
So where are the movies? And why can’t we see them?
Release the content
Time and again, we hear that people aren’t ready to go to the cinema yet, so that’s why there’s not any cinema to see. But that’s not the case around the world. One hundred and fifty million people went to the movies in China in August and September combined. The Danish movie Another Round, starring Mads Mikkelsen, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, has drawn nearly a million viewers in Denmark, making it the largest Danish movie in three years. In Japan, Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train, shattered box-office records for that country, making $44.6 million on opening weekend. So it’s hard to believe that moviegoing is truly dead and gone in the United States.
And yet no American industry is suffering quite like the film industry. Who’s to blame for this calamity?
You can’t lay this at the feet of the theater chains or the independents. Theaters want to be open. They have gone above and beyond with all COVID-19 protocols. They’ve never been more sanitary and are restricting crowds. But with no content to show, they’re staggering around like deer trapped in a once-in-a-century drought.
Nor can you really blame individual moviegoers. People are just trying to make the best decisions they can based on the information they receive. No one significant in South Korea or Germany is saying “it’s not safe to go to the movies.” So citizens in those countries can make informed decisions based on reliable data. That’s not the case in the United States. The real perpetrators are:
Government officials. Movie theaters can be open in many states, and they’re operating as best they can. But in New York State, they can only open this Friday for the first time, at 25 percent capacity, and even then not in New York City. In California, movie theaters can be open, but they’re not open in Los Angeles. Without audiences in the country’s two largest cities, the cities where the movie industry basically lives, movies are going to have a hard time. Despite relentless data showing that moviegoing is safe, our country’s most entrenched local bureaucrats refuse to allow people to understand that, or to make their own choices.
Studios. Film companies have been completely gutless throughout the pandemic, pushing back release dates ad infinitum to the point of absurdity. Tenet didn’t do that well, but it might not have done much better under normal circumstances. The first studio to have the sack to actually release another major film will receive the gift of infinite riches, and will provide cover to the rest of the industry cowards.
Entertainment media. Some film writers, like Sonny Bunch at the Bulwark and Will Leitch, have been advocating for the return of movies, or at least lamenting the absurdity of the absence of new films. Vulture, to its credit, published an interview with an epidemiologist in August saying that if you go to the movies, you should wear a mask, but it’s otherwise safe. But the vast majority of film writers have published nothing but warnings about film-going. They’re not only biting the hands that feed them, but chomping them clean off. The most egregious example came from the Onion’s AV Club in August where they begged people not to go to movies, quoting an infectious-disease specialist as saying “it’s just about the last thing I’d do right now.”
Meanwhile, most film critics, while still seeing all the screeners that studios will serve up, are warning that they aren’t in a “hurry” to go back to theaters. But their supposed courage is actually cowardice, and they’ve done a lot of harm the industry that they supposedly love.
As movie theaters cautiously reopen (some more cautiously than others), @GlennWhipp and I wrote about some of the challenges and responsibilities of covering movies in a pandemic — and why, much as we love and miss theaters, we're in no hurry to return.https://t.co/8C3hqSasyk
— Justin Chang (@JustinCChang) August 21, 2020
No studio wants to greenlight the next big release. Apparently, I’m one of the few writers who thinks it’s fine to go to the movies. And no politician wants to cede their God-like control of allowing privately-owned businesses to open and close. But look at what’s going on around the world. Movies are open, they’re making millions, and literally no one is getting sick. That should be a sign to all of us: It’s going to be OK. Hocus Pocus, which wasn’t even popular when it originally came out, has made more than four million dollars since they re-released it last month. Let the critics cower at home. Clearly, people want to go to the movies. So freaking let them.