UPDATE: 1:20 p.m. ― AMC Theatres has reportedly reversed course, responding to backlash Friday by saying all patrons would be required to wear masks.
The largest U.S. cinema chain’s claimed effort to avoid controversy just created one.
AMC Theatres, which plans to reopen in mid-July for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic, announced measures to help protect customers from COVID-19 ― but it won’t mandate face masks. Regal and Cinemark, the second and third-largest chains, made the same allowance.
What caused an uproar on social media was the explanation for the lax mask policy from AMC’s CEO, Adam Aron.
“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Aron told Variety. “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.”
AMC said it will require employees to wear masks, post social distance guidelines for customers, limit auditorium seating capacity, and feature hand-sanitizing stations. But audience members are free to go maskless unless it’s mandated by law in the region, the company said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend people wear face masks in public.
Despite the evidence that face masks help prevent the spread of the virus, President Donald Trump has refused to wear one in public and many of his followers have adopted similar defiance, turning the mask into a culture war symbol.
HuffPost didn’t immediately hear back from AMC about the uproar. The company said last month it could go out of business unless it begins generating cash flow.
Many film fans on Twitter thought AMC’s move was more blockhead than blockbuster.