U.K. Theater Chain Pulled Film About Gang Violence After ‘25 Significant Incidents’

A highly publicized mass brawl outside a cinema showing “Blue Story,” a London-set movie about two friends and the effects of gang violence, was one of 25 separate incidents involving the film at 16 of its venues, according to the Vue cinema chain, which pulled the movie from all of its theaters in the wake of the brawl.

Amid a backlash against Vue and accusations that it yanked the movie because of its subject matter – hashtags such as #NoBlueNoVue and #BoycottVue gained traction on Twitter – the exhibitor said it was a “fantastic film” with “a powerful message.” But citing customer safety as the reason for its decision to pull the film, the company said it had never seen so many incidents reported for a movie within 24 hours of it hitting its screens.

“The decision to withdraw ‘Blue Story’ was not one taken lightly or without careful consideration of our experience across the country,” the company said in a statement issued to Variety. “The film opened in 60 of our sites across the U.K. and Ireland on Friday, 22nd November, but during the first 24 hours of the film over 25 significant incidents were reported and escalated to senior management in 16 separate cinemas. This is the biggest number we have ever seen for any film in a such a short time frame.

The brawl at the Star City complex in Birmingham on Saturday involved about 100 participants, at least one of whom was pictured wielding a machete. Five youths were arrested, and several police officers were injured.

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Vue said the incidents happened despite precautionary measures including extra security, removing late-night showings, and reduced screenings.

There were also reports Monday of fighting outside a Cineworld theater showing “Blue Story” in Sheffield, although the chain has said it will not stop showing the movie. Odeon, too, has committed to keep playing the film, which was written and directed by YouTube sensation Rapman, whose real name is Andrew Onwubolu. He has condemned the violence.

BBC Films and Paramount, both of whom backed the film, said in separate statements they regretted the violence but backed the picture, emphasizing that they thought it was an important film.

Vue also complimented the film’s artistic merit and said its decision to pull it was not based on the content of the movie.

“This decision is not, as some have alleged, based on biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself,” the company said. “At Vue, we believe passionately in bringing people together and using the power of the big screen experience to entertain, educate and inspire all of our audiences. ‘Blue Story’ is a fantastic film and one with a very powerful message. It is a film that has the opportunity to change lives.

“We hope that ‘Blue Story’ achieves the success it deserves and importantly its message does not get lost.”

The picture pulled in £1.3 million ($1.7 million) over the weekend.