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Violence Erupts in Opening Week of 'Higher Learning'

January 20, 1995|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Despite Columbia Pictures' upscale marketing attempts on "Higher Learning" and the studio's offers to pay for additional security at theaters, violence has plagued the first week of the John Singleton college drama, resulting in two deaths outside Washington.

Jennings R. Kettleson was fatally shot in a drive-by shooting Jan. 12 outside the National Amusements Multiplex in Centreville, Va. A second fatality was reported the following day at the Lee Highway Multiplex, also in Virginia. A 17-year-old youth was charged in the homicide.

There have also been brawls and at least one other reported shooting in Midwestern areas, according to reports in Variety and the Associated Press.

Singleton's first film, "Boyz N the Hood," which opened in the summer of 1991, resulted in similar violent confrontations at theaters, leaving two dead and 33 injured. At that time, Columbia was criticized for not anticipating trouble.

For "Higher Learning," Columbia had taken several precautionary measures.

"We had meetings at which we discussed and planned a number of steps that had proven helpful in the past," says Ed Russell, a Columbia/TriStar spokesman. A strategy was mapped out long before the film's opening Jan. 11. It opens in 50 more theaters today.

Since most violence usually occurs during a film's opening weekend, the studio opened "Higher Learning" at more than 1,300 screens on a Wednesday. The only reported problem on opening day was a self-inflicted gunshot wound during an evening screening at the Jefferson Square Cinema in Joliet, Ill., in which a woman shot herself in the thigh when her gun discharged in the theater.

"Higher Learning" was also carefully sold. The print advertising gave no indication of violent content in the movie, although the television trailer did feature violence.

Columbia offered to reimburse theater owners around the country for any additional security for the film's run, and says Russell, several took up the offer.

Russell said that the violence had occurred only in small markets, not major cities. So far there has been only one confirmed cancellation of screenings of the film, Russell said, at the Canton Centre Mall in Canton, Ohio, where, according to Variety, there was violence Saturday night between white and African American youths. The nearby Belden Village Cinemas decided to impose an NC-17 rating on the film--so that no teen-agers could be allowed into the film, with or without parents.

Another incident in Lincoln Park, Mich., last Friday resulted in the arrest of four juveniles and six adults who were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, according to the Associated Press.

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