Graham: Hollywood facing hurdles as it attempts to return to normal

Theaters plan to open next month, but are they ready?

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Hollywood is preparing to return to the movies. 

But are audiences ready to follow? 

The AMC theater at the Fairlane Town Center mall in Dearborn was closed along with the entire mall for cleaning on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, after a person confirmed to have the coronavirus was known to have visited on Tuesday.

It was announced this week that AMC Theatres plans to reopen its doors, which have been shuttered since mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic gripped America, on July 15. A rep for AMC told Variety that upon reopening patrons would not be required to wear masks, out of fear of the theater chain being "drawn into a political controversy." 

So much for that plan. AMC was hammered with comments online from people who thought the world's largest movie chain — which earlier this month expressed doubts it would be able to keep operating following the COVID-19 shutdown — was being reckless with regards to public health by not strictly enforcing a mask-wearing policy. 

AMC reversed its stance on Friday, saying it would require masks upon reopening, but the kerfuffle shows that while the movie business is eager to return, it's not entirely sure how to do it, and a return to the carefree popcorn-munching days of yore may be further off than Hollywood hopes. 

Locally, Emagine Theatres brewed up a controversy of its own this week when company chairman Paul Glantz announced plans to reopen the Emagine Royal Oak theater this weekend — in willful defiance of Gov. Whitmer's executive orders — for a Juneteenth Film Festival.

The fest was to donate proceeds to the United Negro College Fund and celebrate Black filmmakers and Black stories with showings of films such as "Blindspotting," "If Beale Street Could Talk," "I Am Not Your Negro," "The Color Purple" and "Do the Right Thing."

Emagine Theatres' Paul Glantz.

Glantz thought he was doing the right thing by putting new social distancing policies in place, managing traffic flow inside theaters, reducing audience capacity to about 60%, adding hand sanitizing stations and offering patrons masks to be worn in the lobby, bathroom and hallway areas. But he was hit Thursday with a letter from the state's attorney general, saying if he reopened as planned he'd face misdemeanor charges for disobeying Whitmer's orders for the state's safe return plan.

Glantz fired off an angry statement, saying “the hypocrisy of our Governor’s orders is unfathomable in magnitude," and that "if there is anything more arbitrary and capricious in governmental behavior, I certainly haven’t experienced it in my lifetime.” 

Meanwhile, Emagine's current reopening strategy — a date for that reopening hinges on Michigan entering Phase 5 of its Safe Start Plan — requires employees to wear masks or another form of PPE while guests are recommended, but not required, to do so.

As incidents of clashes between those wearing and not wearing masks have popped up across the country and in Michigan — bartenders and servers in Ferndale and Royal Oak reported multiple instances of customers throwing tantrums over mask requirements following Michigan's first weekend of bar and restaurant reopenings — who's willing to wade into those waters for what should be a carefree afternoon or evening at the movies? 

Hollywood is hoping you are. "Tenet," the latest mind-bender from director Christopher Nolan, is slated to open July 31 in theaters, making it the first major test of whether Americans are ready to return to cinemas.

Robert Pattinson and John David Washington in "Tenet."

"Tenet" was originally set to open July 17 but last week its studio, Warner Bros., announced it was pushing back two weeks to July 31. In its place, Warners announced it would re-release Nolan's "Inception," in commemoration of the film's 10-year anniversary, on July 17 — a soft-opening, if you will, for Hollywood before Disney's "Mulan" hits theaters July 24 and "Tenet" follows the next week.

Come July 31, Emagine's Glantz says he plans to give all of his screens to "Tenet." He's ready to welcome back crowds and get back to business as usual after a devastating spring that cost the movie business billions in revenue. 

As the pandemic hit and theaters closed in mid-March, the release calendar became a barren landscape as blockbusters hightailed it for greener — or at least safer — pastures; the James Bond flick "No Time to Die" was the first to jump ship, followed by the next "Fast and Furious" movie and so on.

Only a handful of titles stuck to their release schedules and opted for a home release, including the family flicks "Trolls World Tour" and "Scoob," along with the Pete Davidson-starring Judd Apatow comedy "The King of Staten Island." "I made this to make people happy, and people need to be happy right now," Apatow told us last week. "So it would be weird for me to horde it for a year just because I want a movie theater experience."

He may have made the right move, since no one really knows, at this point, what a movie theater experience in 2020 is going to look like.