With the return of movie theaters that started at the beginning of September, theaters have claimed that they are providing a safe movie-going experience, but is that really true? How does a theater prevent someone from taking off their mask during the movie, how will they keep people six feet apart and is it even worth the risk? This week I went to go see the new Christopher Nolan blockbuster Tenet at the Regal Starlight Cinema in Andersen to investigate if they were upholding their own policies and if it was really safe to attend a movie theater.
I arrived at Regal Starlight at around 7:45 p.m. for my movie at 8:00 p.m. unaware if the theater was going to be packed or empty. As I approached the entrance, I spotted the typical “masks are required please adhere to social distancing” signs and made sure that my own mask was secure. Entering the doors, it was mostly empty, save for a large group of eight college students who were all wearing masks. It’s somewhat eerie to see a place usually teeming with people be so empty. The concession stand had only two employees running it with one cash register between them to maintain social distancing guidelines. I followed the dots on the ground indicating six feet to keep my distance and waited for the group of eight to finish their orders. Everything seemed good so far; the employees handled the food with care and I could see them cleaning the surface after serving a group of customers. However, this wasn’t the real test.
Going into the movie theater, I was curious to see how many people had shown up, and when I arrived there were maybe 15 people max in the screening I attended. The group of eight was there right next to each other in their own row, but according to Regal Starlight’s own rules the audience is only allowed to sit two together then split two seats down. I was curious if someone would arrive to split them up, but nobody came into the theater to check if everybody was socially distanced. I was mostly shocked that nobody even made an effort to check in on us. As one of the first days back where it’s crucial to show off that you are committed to keeping the audience safe, no one came to check on anybody. If you wanted to keep your mask off the whole movie nobody was going to stop you. I sat down and watched the movie all the way through with no incidents. After the movie had ended and the credits had passed, I was curious if they were going to sanitize the seats and they did not. The janitor did his typical sweeping of popcorn and fallen red vines, but didn’t clean any seats.
All in all, there wasn’t any mediation of where to sit or to keep your mask on. Supposedly the maximum occupancy for that theater was half per screening, and I don’t see that working without intense oversight. Even then, the theater isn’t spread out enough to accommodate everybody’s six feet. Without them constantly sanitizing the seats after every screening, wouldn’t there undoubtedly be germs from eating popcorn and soda? With the lax protocols regarding COVID and the general disposition of southerners regarding the usage of masks, I wouldn’t call going to a movie safe quite yet.