On Friday, September 21, I decided to go see End of Watch because I had read great reviews and I don’t feel I can honestly discuss violent films if I never see any.
It was a 2:00 PM show and very few people were in the theater. Right before the film started, I was stunned to see a young mother bring a very small boy into the theater. He could not have been more than four or five years old.
The film is rated “R” and all of the advertising for the film makes it very clear that the film is exceedingly violent and profane. Nevertheless, here is this little boy in this giant theater with digital sound being forced to watch intense violence and profanity from the very first frame of the film.
After about ten minutes, during which there were numerous violent acts and F-bombs every other word on screen, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Not the film. The situation with the child.
There was no way I could sit in that theater and watch the violence on screen, knowing this little boy was being, in my opinion, emotionally and mentally abused by his either clueless or narcissistic mother.
So I got up, and went to where the mother was sitting. I told her that such a small child should not be subjected to that kind of violence and profanity and that she should get him out of the theater. She just looked at me with a blank stare and turned away.
And I walked out.
Standing in the lobby, I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try to do something more. Anything.
So I called the Child Protective Services hot line here in Portland on my cell phone.
When I explained the situation, a very compassionate woman commiserated with me and said “Look, you’re right. No responsible parent would take a little child into a film like that, but, legally, there’s nothing we can do. I suggest you talk to the theater manager and let him know how upsetting this was to you. And thank you for caring enough to call.”
I then sought out the theater manager who was also very compassionate. He told me that he had a two year old son and could completely empathize with how I was feeling; however, he too was powerless to act unless the woman caused a disturbance.
Of course, I understood. Legally, he was handcuffed, as was the lady at Child Protective Services. As was I. (Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Regal Cinema chain and their fantastic “Go Big or Go Home” campaign to encourage people to see films in theaters.)
I exited the theater and noticed a news van right out front from KGW, Channel 8, the NBC affiliate here in Portland,
I called my wife Lauren to relay what had happened and, without me even telling her about the news van, she immediately said I should call our friend Sally Ramirez who is the Assistant News Director at that very station. So I called Sally and explained the situation. She then called her reporter in the van (which was there to cover the first day sales of the new I phone) and, within a few minutes, I was doing a news interview about what had happened.
And, a few days later, KGW aired both that interview and an extensive news story on the subject matter:
Going forward, here are my thoughts:
–I do not believe in censorship. I’ve produced “R” rated movies myself. I just don’t think that little children should be forced by their parents to experience the kind of violence and/or profanity and/or explicit sexuality in “R” rated films.
–Just because we can do something (like take a child to a film like that) doesn’t mean that we should.
-I would love to see more people get involved so parents don’t subject their little children to a kind of violence/profanity/sexuality that they have no way of being able to process in a healthy way. If you see this kind of thing, and you don’t feel comfortable talking to the parent, talk to the theater manager. Maybe even tell him/her that you don’t want to sit in an “R” rated film with little children. And maybe even ask for a refund. If enough of us do that, the theater chains will definitely pay attention.
–I would hope that theaters would instruct their ticket sellers to at least caution a parent who is about to buy a ticket for an “R” rated movie for a small child. “Hey, there’s a lot of violence and profanity in this film. Are you sure you want to take your child in?” Just that could prevent some parents from proceeding. In fact, I’m told that some theater managers do indeed instruct their ticket sellers to do just, to which I say “way to go!”
–I would love to see the “R” rating mean that no one under 12 or 13 can be admitted to violent R-rated movies, even with an adult.
What can or should we do in situations like that?
Was I out of line for confronting the mother?
Was it none of my business?
Should I have just shut up?
What, if anything, do you suggest we do about little kids and “R” rated films?
Please let me know what you think, and if this commentary resonates with you, please put this link on your Facebook and Twitter pages, and distribute it to your friends and whomever else you think should see it so we can get a national dialogue started.
Children are so vulnerable and impressionable. They need and deserve our help.
(Stephen Simon produced such films as Somewhere in Time (Christopher Reeve), What Dreams May Come (Robin Williams) and All The Right Moves (Tom Cruise). He produced and directed both Indigo and Conversations with God and co-founded The Spiritual Cinema Circle. He is also the author of The Force is With You and Bringing Back The Old Hollywood.)