After AG's office threat, Emagine Juneteenth Film Fest postponed

Royal Oak — A Royal Oak movie theater planning a Juneteenth Film Festival starting Friday has postponed the event after being warned by the state Attorney General’s Office that it would be in violation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders.

The Emagine Theater in Royal Oak hosted the 2015 Michigan Heart Gallery grand opening.

The Emagine Royal Oak theater could have faced misdemeanor charges if operators opened their doors to the public, according to Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, who confirmed a letter has been sent to the theater urging it to “reconsider opening in light of public health concerns.”

"While the Attorney General's office appreciates the effort behind this festival to recognize and support African American people throughout our country, we cannot allow one noble cause to risk the lives of countless Michiganders,” Jarvi said, adding that “Executive Order 2020-110 requires theaters outside of certain parts of the state to remain closed, and a willful violation of that order is a misdemeanor offense."

“Until it is deemed safe to do otherwise by medical experts, we must continue to follow the guidelines in place to ensure our state's recovery from this pandemic is not thrown off track."

Plans for the Juneteenth Film Fest were announced Monday. The event, which was to run at least one week, was to feature films focused on black filmmakers and black stories, including "Do the Right Thing," "If Beale Street Could Talk," "The Color Purple," "I Am Not Your Negro," "Blindspotting," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and more. Net ticket proceeds were to benefit the United Negro College Fund.

Emagine chairman Paul Glantz said the theater implemented special measures for cleaning, seating and to comply with social distancing and encourage patrons to do the same.

“The hypocrisy of our Governor’s orders is unfathomable in magnitude," Glantz said in a statement Thursday. "Strip clubs are open, massage parlors are open, and yet there is alleged ‘science and data’ to support the continued closure of movie theaters.

"It is okay to walk arm and arm with folks in Highland Park for a photo op in violation of social distancing guidelines, but we allegedly pose a threat to the life and safety of our guests. If there is anything more arbitrary and capricious in governmental behavior, I certainly haven’t experienced it in my lifetime.”

Emagine Theatres' Paul Glantz.

Earlier this week, Glantz outlined the steps the theater had taken to comply with social distancing guidelines and provide a sanitary moviegoing environment. One-way lanes for entering and exiting theaters were to be implemented, and hand sanitizing stations were added in the lobby and hallway areas. Parties would have two empty seats between separating them from others, and Glantz estimated theater capacities would be held to around 65% of their normal cap.

"This is not designed in any way to be adversarial with the governor," Glantz said earlier this week. "It’s simply we think now is a great time to be able to raise money for a terrific cause, and we think it will do so and it will demonstrate that we can do so in a safe and effective manner for our guests." 

In his statement Thursday, Glantz said he submitted his plan for opening to Whitmer's office for review but received no feedback. 

"It has apparently been ignored or dismissed without consideration," he said. "We find this wrongful abuse of governmental power appalling, and we will be seeking legal redress to prevent it from occurring in the future.”

Tickets to the Juneteenth Film Festival showings were $10. All ticket sales will be automatically refunded to guests' credit cards, and the fest will go on at a late date, according to a release.

The African-American community has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus, including in Oakland County, where they account for about one-third of the 8,625 positive cases, according to county data.

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