The director of a film at the centre of a storm over violence in cinemas has said he feels “bullied” and “cheated” after it was banned by the Vue chain.
Rapman said Blue Story had nothing to do with a mass brawl involving machetes at a Vue in Birmingham, which left seven police officers injured.
Vue pulled the British film, saying it had sparked 25 incidents nationwide.
But Rapman said there “was no link to Blue Story” and asked whether there were “hidden reasons” behind the ban.
Five teenagers were arrested after the fight in Birmingham’s Star City complex on Saturday.
The writer and director told BBC arts editor Will Gompertz: “They were just in a cinema apparently for Frozen , but then they pinned it on Blue Story.”
Vue said there had been a total of 25 “significant incidents” at its sites around the country, all involving people either watching, buying tickets for, going in to watch or leaving screenings of Blue Story.
Rapman, real name Andrew Onwubolu, said there was “no connection” between the Birmingham brawl and his movie.
“And then you start thinking, is there hidden reasons there? What’s the owner like? Has he got an issue with young urban youth? Is he prejudiced? Does he believe that this film brings a certain type? Is there a colour thing?
“You start thinking of all these things, and it was an upsetting time.”
A spokesperson for Vue said the decision to pull Blue Story from its 91 cinemas nationwide was “categorically not” related to race.
The rapper-turned-film-maker, who rose to prominence in 2017 with his hit YouTube series Shiro’s Story, said taking a machete to a cinema was “barbaric”, but asked Vue to give details of the other incidents.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: “They say that there’s been a number of incidents, but where’s the proof? Where’s the evidence? Where?
“We live in a camera generation now. If anything happens, the youth are going to film that and you will see it. How come we haven’t seen any footage of the rest of these incidents?
“I feel like that was just something to say to cover their decision, which already wasn’t justified because the [original] incident had no connection to Blue Story.”
What have Vue said?
Vue founder and chief executive Tim Richards said incidents involving groups took place at 16 cinemas in total, starting on Friday morning – the day of Blue Story’s release – until Saturday evening, when it was pulled.
“In over 30 years of working in cinema exhibition in the UK, I have never seen a nationwide issue like this affecting so many cinemas in such a short space of time,” Mr Richards said.
The chain classes “significant incidents” as those involving illegal activity, harassment, intimidation, violence, public disorder, or anything requiring security, medical, fire or police intervention. But Vue has not given specific details of the incidents or where they took place.
“We have reviewed and assessed each and every incident in detail as part of our ongoing process of making decisions as to how we could possibly keep Blue Story on our screens,” Mr Richards said.
Additional security was put in place, but “we were still not satisfied the risk had been reduced to an acceptable level”, he added.
Mr Richards also said Blue Story, which has a 15 certificate, attracted a “very young audience”. Reports suggesting those involved in the incidents were there to watch other films – such as Frozen 2 – were “simply not true”, he added.
“A younger audience were attempting to purchase tickets for other movies to access the Blue Story screenings and were also resisting requests for ID. This also played a key role in incidents and our decision.”
‘Lucky there were no serious injuries’
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “officers were attacked by quite young children” in Birmingham on Saturday, including “12, 13-year-olds who were there in quite large numbers”.
His force had not asked the chain to pull screenings of the film, he added.
“But we have to ask why and how did so many young children turn up in such quite large numbers, some of them armed to attack other people. It’s fortunate there wasn’t any serious injury on Saturday, but my goodness there could have been.”
Film company ‘offered extra security’
Rapman said he knew his film would appeal to young people, but he had no reason to suspect it might attract violence.
“The two gangs that the film’s based on, which are real gangs, have been in a cinema screen watching it together, laughing together, joking together, and leaving a cinema connected, happy seeing the area they grew up in.”
Blue Story follows the life of Timmy who lives in Lewisham but goes to school in Peckham – two areas that have a notorious rivalry.
It is released by the Paramount film studio, which offered to provide extra security at cinemas, Rapman said. The movie is also backed by BBC Films.
“Paramount have definitely offered every single site extra security if they need it. How hard would that be to just get more [security] people there?”
‘They bullied me’
Showcase originally followed Vue’s lead in pulling the film, but later reinstated it. Odeon and Cineworld have continued showing the movie.
Vue’s move has led to a vocal backlash, with some accusing the chain of being “institutionally racist”. Vue has said its decision was made “on grounds of safety alone” and not because of “biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself”.
But Rapman said: “They’ve alienated themselves from a big audience there. The explanation came with no evidence, no facts.
“I feel like they bullied me because I’m a small film. They wouldn’t have pulled Frozen, they wouldn’t have pulled Last Christmas. They pulled a little independent movie that needs it more than them other movies.”
He feels “cheated” as a result, he added. “I feel it’s always the upward hurdles coming from our background. I always knew it was never going to be smooth. But the last thing I thought was a cinema would ban us from every single site. I just don’t think they respect me. They don’t respect my movie.”
Film is ‘about love, not violence’
Rapman said Blue Story is “about what people do for the people they love, and how love can make people make the wrong decisions – and the right decisions sometimes”.
He told BBC News: “If you watch the film, you will understand. The last line of the whole trailer is, ‘I’m not trying to justify, but I’m going to show you what these young boys are fighting for’.
“I’m not justifying their actions, but go and see why they are fighting, see why they’re stabbing and see what they’re doing all these things, just so you can see their motivation and maybe we can help prevent that, so they don’t have to pick up a weapon again.”
In his statement, Vue’s Tim Richards added: “We wholeheartedly agree that the issues that have arisen are not about the film, but neither are they about Vue.
The chain screens more than 500 films a year “in a range of diverse content”, he explained. “We are in the business of showing movies, not withdrawing movies.”
Blue Story opened on Friday 22 November on 310 screens in the UK and Ireland and made £1.3 million over the weekend.
That was enough to secure it third place on this week’s UK and Ireland box office chart, behind Frozen 2 and Last Christmas.