IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Turned Away From a Movie Screening Because I'm Black

Once the questionnaire got to the ethnicity part, I got my first taste of the notorious white privilege.
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Publish date:
December 31, 2014
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movies, racism, social justice, It Happenend To Me, Before We Go, Chris Evans

Last week, my good friend Aramis and I planned to go see a free screening of "Before We Go." The film is directed by and starring Chris Evans (*swoon*), it’s a romance flick, it’s free -- sounds like a perfect girls’ night out.

Aramis got the movie invite a week prior to receiving the actual tickets. Once she got the tickets (on the day of the screening), she was told to call the film’s marketing agency ERm Research to retrieve a confirmation number. We figured the call was just for crowd control -- a final RSVP. Wrong. Apparently, this step was to see if the viewer fit the criteria for the film’s targeted audience. According to the ticket, the only specified criteria was age demographic. Viewers had to be between the ages 17 and 44. The phone call went something like this:

Operator: Hello, please state the name of the film you are seeing and the code on your ticket.

Aramis: “Before We Go.” The code is 4RL

Operator: OK. Now I have a short questionnaire for us to see if you qualify. Please answer the following questions. Name?

Aramis: Aramis Grant

Operator: Age?

Aramis: 26

Operator: Ethnicity?

Aramis: African-American

*Delayed pause*

Operator: I’m sorry ma’am, looks like this screening is all full. I can’t confirm you.

Aramis: Really?

Operator: Yes, sorry about that. Have a good day. Bye.

Aramis then called me to tell me the bad news. No Chris Evans. No movie. Girls’ night out ruined! She brought up the questionnaire and said she found it weird that the operator had to know her race before telling her the RSVP list was closed. I found it odd that they even asked the question in the first place. She had already filled out a questionnaire before even receiving the ticket anyway. Why did she have to restate her ethnicity?

So, we did a little experiment. I called and acted as a white woman to see if I would be able to RSVP or “qualify,” as ERm Research calls it. Aramis called the agency around noon. I made sure to call 10-15 minutes later. After all, if the RSVP was closed that early, there’s no way I’d be able to get through.

I called and was prompted with the same questions. Once the questionnaire got to the ethnicity part, I got my first taste of the notorious white privilege.

Operator: Ethnicity?

Me: Caucasian

Operator: Address and phone number? (Writer’s note: I got to the next step!)

Me: *My address and phone number*

Operator: Ok, great! Your code is 1101. How many guests will you be attending with?

Not only did I get my confirmation number, I was also able to bring multiple guests with me! White guests only, I’m sure. I called Aramis to share the shocking and disappointing news. The current racial climate in this country is boiling hot. You would think, at least in NYC (especially after the Eric Garner case), companies would steer clear of anything that could be perceived racially insensitive at all costs.

I called the agency again (as a white woman) to inquire about their screening policy. Why did I, a white woman, get approved to see a movie yet my black friend was denied earlier? The operator was tongue tied as she tried to explain the purpose of the questionnaire. At first she claimed it determined if the caller was “qualified” to see the film, then she said the questions help “determined availability,” then she admitted to having no idea why she had to ask the race question, and finally (in good employee faith) she said the caller actually didn’t have to answer the ethnicity question (albeit it being required to “qualify”).

She said, “All we do is fill out the questionnaire and then provide the answer that is provided to us."

That night, Aramis and I went to the theater to see if this was just a numbers game. Was this screening specifically for a major white audience and a smaller number of other races? We got there about 45 minutes before showtime and, as expected, more than half of the moviegoers were white. We told our story to the film’s representatives at check-in and they apologized and offered us a pass to see the film. We weren’t interested, of course. We were more interested in getting to the bottom of the situation.

A man named Ryan, who is an analyst from the company, was notified about the incident and tried to reassure us that this was not a racial issue.

“Sorry that happened to you! That’s so strange; we weren’t checking for race for this film.”

Yeah, he said that. He then told us that the screening actually filled up within 10 minutes earlier in the day. That’s odd, given the story I shared above. Anyway, I asked him about his race-check comment and he used Chris Rock’s new movie “Top Five” as an example.

Ryan said, “Obviously we wanted more minorities [audience] for that film.” No, not African-Americans/black -- just minorities. Because in America, there’s white and then there are minorities (see: everyone else). Clearly Aramis and I went to see the wrong Chris movie.

For the record, "Before We Go" is an artsy love story about two New Yorkers who fall for each other after missing a subway. I guess no other race could relate to that. Not like New York City is a one enormous cultural melting pot. It’s not like non-white people would eventually purchase tickets for this film once it hits theaters. It’s not like “minorities” support the business of “majorities” every single day. It’s not like our opinions matter. It’s not like it’s 2014.