Mask on, Moviegoers

How AMC Theaters learned to stop worrying and love the mask

AMC Theatres will now require customers to wear masks when the theater chain reopens in July after receiving a swift backlash to its original mask policy.

Thursday, AMC CEO Adam Aron said in an interview with Variety he planned to reopen 450 of the theater chain’s 600 locations on July 15, and open the remaining ones by the end of July. He said theater staff would not enforce a mask policy unless local guidelines mandated it, but that the theater would “strongly encourage” customers to wear masks.

“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Aron told Variety. “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.”

Those comments didn’t land well with people who don’t want to catch a deadly disease while watching a movie. Social media backlash was swift, and AMC reversed its policy within 24 hours:

“It is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks,” according to a Friday statement from the company. “At AMC Theatres, we think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests. Accordingly, and with the full support of our scientific advisors, we are reversing course and are changing our guest mask policy. As we reopen theaters, we now will require that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theaters. The speed with which AMC moved to revise our mask policies is a reflection of our commitment to the safety and health of our guests.”

AMC will also sell masks for $1 at the door to any customer who does not have a mask.

Other theater chains soon followed with their own mask policies. Regal Cinemas and Alamo Drafthouse will both require customers to wear masks when they reopen. Alamo took it a step further when it tweeted its mask policy, saying “This is not political.”

So far, Cinemark Theatres has not required masks for customers, but will require them for workers. Other theater chains in Central Texas are already open, with varying mask requirements.

Why is this happening now? At least, in Texas, this new surge of reopening comes as Gov. Greg Abbott remarked this week that businesses could enforce mask policies, but the state government would not mandate such policies and would not allow local governments the power to enforce those policies at a local level for citizens. Actually, he said that Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff  “figured out” a way to enforce masks when the judge issued a new order requiring businesses to make employees and customers to wear face coverings as of June 22, lest they face a fine.

Meanwhile, Texas saw a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations, case confirmations and deaths this week. The state has set coronavirus hospitalization records every day since June 11. June 19 data has a record 3,148 hospitalizations. The CDC is reporting 2.1 million cases and 118,365 coronavirus deaths since tracking began in March.

Most of these new movie theater mask policies will still allow customers to remove their masks to eat and drink concessions, which sounds great in theory, but dumb in practice. What’s to stop customers from just ordering a bunch of food and eating throughout the whole movie, thereby negating the point of a mask in the first place? Most big theater chains don’t effectively enforce no-talking or no-cellphone rules, much less mask rules.

And let’s not forget the deeper reason why this  is all happening. Movie theater chains are rushing to reopen largely because of Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s next would-be blockbuster. Nolan, of all people, should know the virtues of wearing a mask:

Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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