A lethal rash of violence that marred the opening of "Boyz N the Hood," a movie depicting the struggles of growing up in South-Central Los Angeles, prompted several theaters Saturday to cancel the feature and many others to increase security amid fears of a repeat of Friday night's bloodshed.
Eleven people were wounded, one critically, as gunfire erupted in and around three Southern California theaters. Elsewhere, a Chicago man was killed, a Sacramento woman was severely wounded and many other people suffered injuries in at least 25 violent incidents as the film opened in more than 800 theaters nationwide.
The mayhem--largely blamed on street hoodlums by law enforcement authorities--triggered panic among theatergoers and a hectic search for suspects by police.
By 9:30 p.m. Saturday, no major incidents had been reported locally or nationally and beefed up security remained on the lookout for trouble. The Edwards Theatre chain added guards at theaters in Corona, El Toro, Mission Viejo and Westminster, Chairman James Edwards Sr. said.
Friday's violence prompted the movie makers to defend "Boyz N the Hood" as a work of art that intends to deliver a message of peace. A visibly shaken John Singleton, the film's 23-year-old African-American writer and director, expressed sympathy for victims and appealed to the perpetrators for an end to the violence.
At a hastily called news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Singleton, who grew up in the neighborhoods depicted in the drama, said the acts of violence were "indicative of the degeneration of American society, not a reflection of my film, which is about family, love and friendship."
Wearing a baseball cap marked with words "Boyz N the Hood/Increase the Peace," Singleton placed blame on a society that "breeds illiteracy and economic deprivation. . . . There's a whole generation of people who are disenfranchised."
Asked what he would say to those who have caused the violence, Singleton said: "There's a certain segment of the population that wants you to do what you're doing to each other. But we don't have time for that.
"I won't turn my back on my brothers," Singleton said. He expressed hope that they would not "turn their back on me."
Singleton disputed suggestions that the film had been marketed as a "gang" picture and echoed distributor Columbia Picture's earlier statement that the advertising campaign was "based in reality."
Columbia Pictures Chairman Frank Price defended "Boyz" as "an important film with a strong anti-violent, anti-gang, pro-family message." Columbia, the film's distributor, had already paid for additional theater security and offered to supply more.
Despite the violent incidents, one source at Columbia said the film did opening day business of about $3.2 million--a good showing by industry measures.
It was unclear how many theaters decided to pull the feature. A Columbia spokesman said they knew of only eight. That includes two key Los Angeles locations, the Universal City Cineplex Odeon and Manns Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
In Ventura County, theaters in Ventura and Simi Valley decided to continue showing the film, but Simi Valley's Mann Sycamore Plaza Theater canceled the last showing of the day.
The theater will show the movie at scheduled times, but the last show will be at 7:15 p.m., assistant manager Russ Shinneman said.
As a precaution, the theater hired about seven security guards to be present during the two night showings. But there were no disturbances, Shinneman said.
Ventura's Century 8 Cinemas hired two security guards to be at the theater for every showing.
Although screenings of "Boyz N the Hood" won praise from critics for its artistic merit and its anti-violent message, the film's release stirred fears that, like such previous movies as "New Jack City" and "Colors," it would attract hoodlums.
The worst fears were realized Friday with shootings at theaters in Universal City, Upland and Chino, as well as communities far from the gang turfs of Los Angeles. Shootings were reported in San Francisco, Sacramento, Minneapolis, Riverdale, Ill., Tuscaloosa, Ala. and New Springfield, Mass. Melees and scuffles occurred at theaters in Hollywood, Riverside and other communities as well.
In several instances, audiences never had a chance to consider the film's message. At the 18-screen Cineplex Odeon in Universal City, members of the audience were settling into their seats when three shots rang out and chaos ensued.
"The lights went down and the screen lit up and then it just went crazy. There was gunfire. I don't know where exactly but real close," said 19-year-old Rafael, who declined to give his full name. "I don't know these guys personally but this could come back to me."
Rafael said gunmen pursued other youths throughout the building. "These guys were just chasing each other all over."