The Shocking Reason AMC Didn't Want to Require Masks Upon Reopening

The CEO said he wanted to avoid a "political controversy," but then he got a controversy anyway.

If you're an avid movie-goer, you're probably missing the feeling of sinking into a theater seat with your popcorn and waiting for the lights to dim. In the past couple of weeks, major movie theater chains have announced their plans to reopen across the country after being closed down for months due to the coronavirus. These reopening plans involve precautions, as you might expect, but one of the biggest chains out there got major flack when it declared that it didn't intend to make masks mandatory for customers when most of its locations open their doors on July 15. In a June 18 interview with Variety, AMC Theatres CEO and president Adam Aron explained that he wanted to avoid the "political" nature of the issue.

UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, AMC announced that all theaters will be requiring guests to wear masks, releasing the following statement, per The Hollywood Reporter:

At AMC, we have been consulting with top scientists and health experts to create a broad, sweeping, far-reaching health and safety effort to make AMC Theatres safe for our guests and associates when our theatres reopen in July. Among many elements of that comprehensive plan was a requirement for our associates all to wear masks nationwide, as well as a requirement for our guests all to wear masks in the many parts of the country that will require it. In those areas of the country where masks will not be required, we nonetheless planned to strongly encourage mask usage by guests, and fully expected that the vast majority would do so. That policy on guest mask usage, which is directly comparable with our major competitors and many other highly regarded retailers, was announced yesterday afternoon.

This announcement prompted an intense and immediate outcry from our customers, and it is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks. At AMC Theatres, we think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests. Accordingly, and with the full support of our scientific advisors, we are reversing course and are changing our guest mask policy. As we reopen theatres, we now will require that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theatres. The speed with which AMC moved to revise our mask policies is a reflection of our commitment to the safety and health of our guests.

We will constantly monitor the scientific community's latest thinking as to the efficacy of mask usage. We also will be looking at the varying health conditions in specific localities around our theatres all across the country. This will help us to determine what our mask policy will be as we go forward, as well as to make any other needed changes to this policy.

Guests coming to our theatres may bring their own masks of course, but for those who do not have one, masks will be available at our theatre box offices at a nominal $1.00 price. Those who are unwilling to wear a mask will not be admitted or allowed to stay.

The rest of the original article published prior to the policy reversal announcement appears below:

"We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy," Aron told Vanity Fair. "We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary. We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example."

The company unveiled its reopening strategy in an email to newsletter subscribers and members of its loyalty programs and pointed to a page on the official website further detailing its "Safe & Clean" policy. The policy notes that theaters in areas where masks are required by law will abide by those requirements, but elsewhere, masks will only be "recommended" for guests. Employee mask wearing will be mandated, and masks will be available for guests to purchase.

AMC Imax in Santa Clara California
Shutterstock/Sundry Photography

The announcement and Aron's explanation have drawn criticism from those who believe that it further politicizes an issue that should not be a partisan one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other unaffiliated public health organizations, and countless health experts have recommended the wearing of masks as a way to keep the amount of COVID-19 cases down before a vaccine can be widely disseminated. After AMC's plan was blasted out to the public, #BoycottAMC trended on Twitter.

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As for safety systems the chain is putting in place, the "Safe & Clean" policy states that employees will have their temperatures taken at the beginning of every shift, all payments will be cashless, theaters will operate at 30 percent capacity or less, and cleaning procedures will be amped up and updated, among other precautions.

Yet, as noted by The Wrap, AMC Theatres isn't the only chain that won't be requiring guests to wear masks unless they're in a state that demands it. Cinemark and Regal included similar language in their reopening announcements. But it was Aron's reasoning that prompted a deluge of angry responses from movie-goers pledging to cancel their memberships or otherwise not patronize AMC as long as the policy is in place. And for more about the tricky nature of coming out of lockdown, This Major U.S. City Is Pausing Reopening Due to Huge Coronavirus Surge.

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