The United Artists Court Street Cinema discriminated against its own customers when it started searching only women’s pocketbooks, not men’s bags, at the Brooklyn Heights multiplex this summer, some moviegoers charge.
The “women only” security policy has since been scrapped — thanks to intervention from a local councilman after complaints from the distaff side of the film-going community.
“I found it rather offensive and discriminatory,” said Mary Goodman, a Brooklyn Heights resident, who saw “Ponyo” on Aug. 15 with her daughter and admits freely that she sneaked yogurt into the screening, despite the usher rummaging through her bag.
Goodman said that she thought it was against theater policy to bring in outside food and drink, and complained that management did not equally enforce its policy towards men and women.
The ladies’-only search lasted for about a week and reverted to a gender-neutral prosecution after Councilmember David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) called Regal Entertainment Group, the national theater company that owns the silver screens.
“It turns out that this was an isolated mistake,” said Tim Roberts, the lawmaker’s chief of staff. “They were supposed to be searching large bags. Any discrimination would be completely unacceptable.”
Regal’s regional manager did not return calls for comment. But a spokesman for the company, based in Knoxville, Tenn., was unaware of the local issue hundreds of miles away from the headquarters. He did say that searches had become more routine since the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
“The staff has been reminded of our policy, which is to visually check bags — they don’t handle items in bags,” said the spokesman, Russ Nunley. “The purpose is for security,” he said, citing what some believe are post-9-11 realities. In fact, Nunley said that the theater does not ban customers from bringing their own food because viewers must carry everything with them, unlike suburban locations where patrons can leave snacks in their cars. “Our employees are instructed to discuss food items only when they see inappropriate items, such as alcohol or food that is noisy or smelly,” Nunley said. “Within an urban environment, going back to your own property may be quite a hike.”
Though the women-only search policy is apparently a thing of the past, it’s still the talk of Internet gripe sites like Yelp.
“Whatever [the reason for the search], it was annoying. This is not a club. It’s the movies,” wrote “Sharon K.” on Aug. 19.
“Jed L.” said that he and his friends had to dispose of their leftovers from dinner in order to satisfy the guards on Aug. 22.
“I’ve never been treated as rudely as I was at this theater. … Even when we threw away the food, they weren’t happy and asked to check our bags again to see if anything else was at the bottom,” he wrote.
It’s been a rough summer at the theater and not because of dismal ticket sales.
Earlier this month, the entire moviehouse was evacuated when the popcorn maker caught fire and the building filled with smoke. Eight people suffered minor injuries from smoke inhalation.