When American Me premiered March 13, Universal Pictures executives worked overtime to assure executives worked overtime to assure exhibitors that Edward James Olmos’ brutal drama about East Los Angeles gang warfare would not be met by violence at theaters. They reportedly even offered to foot the bill for extra security. But one chain, Cineplex Odeon, took it upon itself to beef up security and bolster crowd control. Universal then got on the defensive, swiftly issuing a statement saying it was “proud to be associated with American Me…a strong anti-drug gang” film.
Cineplex wasn’t totally reassured. “It’s our belief that it’s not content,” says Howard Lichtman, executive vice president of marketing, “but that some films attract certain crowds that cause violence.” In fact, some violence did accompany the opening — 11 gang members were arrested at one L.A. theater, and two brothers were hospitalized after they were shot outside a San Diego cinema. The film netted $3.4 million its first weekend — perhaps proving that the threat of violence doesn’t keep audiences away.