Movie exhibitors from across the country reacted with relief to a screening of director Spike Lee's controversial "Malcolm X" on Thursday, dispelling concerns that the film would have trouble finding its way into theaters.
It was the first public reaction to the $35-million Warner Bros. film, which chronicles the life of the slain black nationalist leader. "Malcolm X" is set to open Nov. 20.
Before seeing the movie, some exhibitors expressed apprehension about the potential for disturbances if they booked the film, citing the scattered unrest and shootings that marred the opening weekends of last year's "New Jack City" and "Boyz N the Hood."
One point of concern was the footage from the infamous Rodney King video that Lee has included in the film's opening sequence.
"There's been considerable speculation in the industry that this could be another film that brings violence, especially as a result of the Rodney King footage," said A. Alan Friedberg, chairman of the New Jersey-based Loews Theatres circuit. "But I'm convinced, for our part, that there is no reason to be apprehensive."
"There is no reason anyone should be concerned about violence," said Nelson Bennett, the senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Baldwin Theater Inc., the nation's only first-run black-owned theater complex. Bennett was enthusiastic about the film's earning potential and said the drama was "true to the spirit of the book" upon which the film was based.
Georgia-based Carmike Theaters Chief Executive Michael Patrick said his representatives who saw the film in Atlanta enjoyed it.
"For people in L.A., it's not the kind of picture that would create any problem. . . . My vice president of film, Tony Rhead, told me the movie will be financially rewarding and that's what I like to hear."
Frequent complaints emerged about the film's three-hour, 20-minute running time. The length will cut into the number of tickets that can be sold because the movie can't be shown as many times per day.