Movie theaters are furious with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for failing to provide clear guidance about when and how cinemas can reopen in New York.
But the governor is having none of it. His office argues that keeping movie theaters shuttered is essential to ensuring that the state, which was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic for much of the spring, doesn’t experience another surge in infections.
“We’re moving heaven and Earth trying to stop a second wave and people need to acknowledge that we’re still in a pandemic and start to act like it,” said Richard Azzopardi, senior advisor to Gov. Cuomo. “We understand some people are unhappy, but you know what? Better unhappy than sick or worse.”
That’s not going to sit well with the exhibition industry. On Friday, “No Time to Die” moved its release from November 2020 to April 2021, putting movie theaters’ plans for an extensive reopening in jeopardy. This weekend, Cineworld announced that with the Bond sequel moving and no major blockbusters on the horizon, it will close its U.K. venues, as well as its Regal Cinemas locations. Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said that it was hard for these films to premiere when New York City, a major source of box office revenue and cultural cache, remains closed.
“We never received a real explanation as to why New York, which had great success in the war against COVID in general, does not allow us to come back like it’s been done all over the world,” he said in an interview with Deadline.
Greidinger’s comments were echoed by National Association of Theatre Owners chief John Fithian, who complained to Variety that Gov. Cuomo had remained silent on when and if cinemas could welcome back guests. He noted that New York and New Mexico are the only two states that haven’t allowed movie theaters to open.
“We’re trying everything we can to go over our health protocols with Gov. Cuomo, which his team has signaled their support for,” Fithian, who serves as the top lobbyist for exhibitors, said. “We’ve asked local officials to weigh in with Gov. Cuomo and urge him to open where it’s safe to do so. We’ve held four press conferences across the state and we’ve had all kinds of people in the movie industry call him to press our case. Now we’re just waiting for Gov. Cuomo’s decision. It’s not a local industry. The movie business is a national and international industry. If movies aren’t getting released because New York isn’t open, that affects the movie industry and its employees all over the world.”
The movie theater business is clearly in a crisis — one that could lead to bankruptcies and mass layoffs and furloughs. However, its leaders may also have a problem in terms of the timing of their pressure campaign against top state officials. New York City has recently seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. That’s led Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to shut down in-person classes in schools, as well as close down non-essential businesses and curb dining inside restaurants.
The governor’s office also noted that even if New York gives the greenlight for theaters to welcome back patrons, there are other issues depressing attendance. One-in-five Americans have said they will not go to a movie theater until there is a vaccine, the governor’s office argued. Moreover, 44% of theaters in the U.S. are still shut due to pandemic rules, including cities in states that have reopened such as Los Angeles.