Rev. William Barber II, a prominent civil rights activist and disability rights advocate, was recently removed from an AMC movie theater in Greenville, North Carolina for bringing his own chair to a screening. The incident has sparked widespread outrage and calls for better accessibility and inclusion policies in public spaces.
Activist Bringing Own Chair Led to Police Being Called
On December 27th, 2023, Rev. Barber was attending a screening of “The Color Purple” at the AMC Fire Tower 12 theater with his son and grandson. As a person with arthritis and nerve damage that makes sitting painful, Rev. Barber travels with a more comfortable folding chair.
Despite getting manager approval to bring this ADA-compliant chair into the theater, Barber was later asked to leave by police after theater staff called to report he was being “distruptive.” He was escorted out of the theater in view of other moviegoers.
Barber said the situation escalated quickly without just cause: “They acted like I was trying to do something illegal by having a chair that I use to be able to view public events.”
AMC Theaters Apologizes Amid Backlash
The incident sparked national outrage, with disability advocates highlighting that Rev. Barber was simply trying to access a public space as afforded to him under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
On December 28th, AMC CEO Adam Aron publicly apologized to Rev. Barber. Aron called the situation “unacceptable” and said AMC would retrain staff on accessibility policies.
Aron has also reached out to Barber personally to apologize and schedule a meeting, according to Barber’s organization the Poor People’s Campaign.
History of Activism Made Situation More Divisive
As a prominent civil rights activist, the Reverend’s removal stirred particular outrage from social justice advocates.
Barber is well-known for campaigns against restrictive voting laws and advocacy for healthcare expansion. As co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, he has organized high-profile protests and demonstrations.
This history as a disruptive activist may have put theater staff and police more on edge despite the Reverend simply asking for disability accommodations in this case.
Calls for Boycotts Over Access Issues
The incident has led advocates and activists to calls for boycotting AMC theaters over accessibility issues.
Disabled actor and comedian Maysoon Zayid tweeted that she would be boycotting AMC after the “disgusting discrimination and ableism” against Rev. Barber.
Nonprofit Access Living launched a petition calling on AMC to improve staff training and update accessibility policies. The group said this situation makes clear that AMC has more work to do to accommodate disabled patrons.
As of December 30th, the petition has received over 65,000 online signatures.
Ongoing Issues With Theater Accessibility
While AMC apologized and promised change, disability advocates note this is not an isolated incident of inadequate accessibility at public venues.
Data from a 2022 survey by RespectAbility, an advocacy group, found that 81% of respondents had experienced barriers to entertainment venues. Lack of wheelchair-accessibility and little flexibility for medical equipment were among top issues reported.
|% Reporting Access Barriers at Entertainment Venues
Rev. Barber himself had previously filed ADA violations against the Lincoln Memorial in 2021 over a lack of wheelchair access to the landmark.
So while the AMC situation has prompted apologies, substantive change in accessibility policies remains an ongoing need according to advocates.
What Comes Next?
AMC leadership has apologized and Rev. Barber said he accepts there was no ill-intent. Now many are focusing on long-term change.
Upcoming steps include:
- Barber meeting directly with AMC CEO Adam Aron
- AMC conducting staff retraining around accessibility
- Advocacy groups continuing pressure on AMC to improve inclusion policies
Supporters globally have expressed solidarity with Barber using the hashtag #IAmRevBarber which the Reverend says has lifted his spirits over a difficult week. Though humiliated by this incident, the activist says he won’t stop working to create a more just society.
In his own words: “Whatever obstacles or distractions that come…will not deter us from fighting for justice.” Disability advocates say incidents like these only embolden their efforts as well.
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