Universal Pictures is offering to reimburse theaters for security guards during opening-weekend screenings of “Straight Outta Compton,” according to several theater executives.
The unusual step was prompted by a combination of recent attacks against moviegoers, continuing racial tensions across the country and the rap biopic’s gang-oriented subject matter.
Some theaters in major cities are taking the Comcast Corp. -owned studio up on the offer, according to one film buyer, particularly as demonstrations have continued this week against police tactics in Ferguson, Mo.
Exhibitors have been grappling with how much security is needed in their large auditoriums after a Louisiana man killed two women at a showing last month of “Trainwreck.”
A Universal spokesman later confirmed that the studio has “partnered” with theater operators who want to hire extra security. The film’s Monday night premiere in Los Angeles featured unusually heavy security, including metal detectors for guests to pass through, and several street closures in the surrounding area. The event was peaceful.
Major theater chains often hire security for busy weekends, and “Straight Outta Compton” is expected to draw large crowds and easily top the box office after opening this Friday. But it is rare for a particular movie to prompt security. In 1991, some theaters hired security personnel for screenings of the gang drama “Boyz N The Hood.”
“Straight Outta Compton” tells the story of N.W.A., the controversial rap group founded by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube that became known for gritty tales of gang life and drug dealing. Its 1988 song “F— tha Police” was especially incendiary.
The movie features several scenes of gang violence in south Los Angeles and of aggressive police tactics, including footage of the 1991 beating of Rodney King by city police. But the movie’s depiction of the rappers’ gangster-filled background isn’t the only reason Universal made the offer for security reimbursements.
Protests in Ferguson on Monday night around the anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer prompted more theater operators to sign on to the plan, said the film buyer, who books movies for several hundred independent theaters. It was unclear to what extent the nation’s three largest operators— Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cinemark Holdings Inc. —are staffing up security.
Security in movie theaters has become a divisive topic in recent months, since the “Trainwreck” shooting in Louisiana and sentencing of James Holmes, the Colorado man who killed 12 people during a 2012 screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Notably the Aurora, Colo., theater where Mr. Holmes opened fire didn’t have security personnel on hand that evening, a lapse that is now the basis for a civil lawsuit against the theater’s operator, Cinemark.
Theater operators hiring additional security said it was just an extra precaution given recent events.
“I don’t think it’s really necessary, but we’re doing it for the public’s peace of mind,” said Rudyard Coltman, who runs the Cinetopia theater chain in Kansas City, Kan., and Portland, Ore. The security costs require preapproval from Universal, he said.
An initial quote for hiring off-duty police officers was $80 an hour, Mr. Coltman said, so he is more likely to hire a security firm that charges $35 an hour. Security guards will be stationed at his theaters this weekend, in the lobby and in the auditorium showing “Straight Outta Compton.”