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From 1991: When violence erupted at John Singleton’s film ‘Boyz N the Hood’

Employees at the Halsted Twin Outdoor Theatre in south suburban Riverdale change the sign to announce that "Boyz N the Hood" will not be shown as scheduled on July 13, 1991. | Sun-Times file

This article by Sun-Times staff reporter Frank Burgos appeared on July 14, 1991, just after the opening of John Singleton’s “Boyz N the Hood.”

At least four area theaters have canceled screenings of “Boyz N the Hood,” an acclaimed motion picture on black life in inner-city Los Angeles, after a moviegoer was fatally shot early Saturday at one theater and fights erupted in others.

Nationwide, violence broke out in several theaters showing the film, which opened Friday. At least 30 people were injured.

Film critics and theater owners fear the violence at the theaters will overshadow the highly touted anti-gang film. The film, praised as a serious drama at events such as the Cannes Film Festival, was improperly advertised by its distributor, Columbia Pictures, as a crime thriller about gangs, critics and owners said.

In south suburban Riverdale, Michael Booth, a 23-year-old security guard, was shot to death in his car as he was attempting to leave the Halsted Twin Outdoor Theatre, 13801 S. Halsted. He had just seen the film, said theater owner Sue Silverman.

Riverdale police Sgt. David Shilling said police interviewed witnesses in Booth’s slaying, “but we have no suspect in custody.”

RELATED: ‘Boyz N the Hood’ director John Singleton dies at 51

At a press conference Saturday at Columbia’s headquarters in Culver City, Calif., the film’s director, 23-year-old John Singleton, said, “My heart goes out to the families of the people that were hurt last night.”

He strongly denied any responsibility for the violence, saying, “I didn’t create the conditions which make people shoot each other.”

Columbia, in a statement, said it would not pull the film from theaters but would pay for increased security at those that continue to show it.

Silverman said screenings of the movie at her drive-in have been canceled for the weekend and won’t resume until tomorrow. Additional armed security was hired to patrol the theater, which also was presenting “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” a science-fiction action-thriller, she said.

Donzie Bender, a friend of Booth’s, said Booth was a security guard who had two children and was not affiliated with any gangs.

In Joliet, a melee erupted among 300 patrons attending a 10 p.m. showing of the film at the Movie 8 theater in the Lewis Joliet Mall. “The whole theater went up for grabs,” said Joliet police Sgt. P.J. Breen.

Police could not say what caused the fight, but witnesses said a loud noise, possibly a gunshot, caused a panic rush for exits. No one was injured.

“I was scared to death,” said Roman Renneke of Arlington Heights, who was in an adjacent theater. “All I know is I heard something going on and a bunch of girls crying started running into our area, hiding under seats.”

“Everyone started running out, saying, `He’s got a gun, they’ve got a gun,’ ” said assistant manager Mike Shytracek, who said the theater was packed. “The movie sold out, and we stopped selling tickets, but people came in anyway. We couldn’t stop them.”

Breen said no evidence of gunfire was found and no arrests were made. Two Will County sheriff’s deputies were at the theater before the disturbance broke out, because managers “anticipated problems,” said Shytracek. He said screenings have been canceled indefinitely.

Besides the Joliet and Riverdale theaters, the Waukegan Lakehurst Cinema and the Crossroads Cinema in Merrillville, Ind., also canceled screenings.

Waukegan police said about a half-dozen moviegoers were arrested at the theater Friday night for disorderly conduct. Merrillville police also reported a fracas, “but nothing major and no arrests.”

Two men in Evergreen Park were arrested Friday after security officers at the Evergreen Theaters, 9730 S. Western Ave., found two handguns on movie patrons.

Among the other violent incidents associated with showings of “Boyz N the Hood,” which opened in 800 theaters nationwide: In Sacramento, Calif., a 19-year-old woman was shot six times in the chest and shoulder when two young men opened fire on deputies trying to break up fights outside a theater.

In Minneapolis, a shot was fired in a theater, and part of the crowd spilled out into the street, police said. A vehicle drove by, and several shots were fired. At least four people were wounded. In Detroit, a teenager was shot in the arm, and two others were stabbed at two theaters. None of the injuries was serious. In Akron, Ohio, a 16-year-old boy was shot in the abdomen outside a theater.

Film critics and theater owners fear the violence will overshadow a major movie with an uplifting message.

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert criticized police and media reports that the film was sparking violence. He said earlier press reports of gang violence at screenings of “New Jack City,” a film about a drug lord, were inaccurate.

“Boyz N the Hood,” he said, “is not a gang film. It’s a film about growing up. It would be tragic if this statement about gang violence was suppressed in any way.”

Ebert said black motion pictures, in particular, are unfairly singled out. “Why is it always a black movie that they get out a metal detector? If they put one in the `Terminator 2′ movie, how many guns would they find?”