Moviegoers call out double standards for prolonged closures of cinemas


Throughout cinematic history, going to the movies (or plays, opera etc.) has often been described as a form of escapism. In many instances, it was an outlet for the overworked and underpaid to suspend life’s realities and virtually enter a parallel universe.

As Malaysians, this is no different. Going to the movies has become an ardent ritual followed by many segments of societies. Whether it’s taking the kids out for the next Pixar movie, catching the new Marvel flick with your best friend, or proposing an effortless first date option for an upcoming rom-com, it’s become a way we connect with others in dark, sometimes cold, solitude. 

This intentional production of movies goes beyond being transported to a different reality, time and place but also functions as an avenue for us to connect to our own emotions on a deeper level, by vicariously identifying with the characters on screen whom we’ve invested ourselves in. 

So it comes as no surprise that the prolonged closure of cinemas in Malaysia, is starting to affect not just the industry, but movie-goers themselves. 

While the growing popularity of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Viu and now Disney+ is constantly predicted to threaten the livelihood of cinemas, it is the global pandemic and government laws that are shaking its existence by not allowing the industry to leverage its biggest edge: being the sole avenue where new movies are still given exclusive rights to, and to experience them in an unparalleled manner. 

In Malaysia, there have been numerous SOP changes and lifts on restrictions observed across the various stages of MCO  (Movement Control Order), seeing many economic sectors and lifestyle segments reopening. However,  cinemas seem to have drawn the short end of the stick as it remains unable to operate. 

The Malaysian cinema industry has not been granted the rights to resume business despite the growing public sentiment claiming cinemas are a safer option of entertainment due to the stringent SOPs observed by the industry players thus far.

An independent analysis by Wisesight, a Malaysian intel agency, indicates that there are no known COVID 19 clusters that had origins from any cinemas during the various MCOs. While the lack of cases originating from cinemas could be because they weren’t allowed to even operate in the first place, some members of the public are seeing this as a case of double standards being played by the government. 

On 7 February, TV-Host Sarimah Ibrahim tweeted, “Can someone explain to me why cinemas are not allowed to open but pasar malams and hair salons are? I just want to understand. Cause you can have SOP’s for cinemas.”

Sarimah’s tweet triggered a spike in online mentions of the hashtag #BringCinemasBack, supporting the reopening of cinemas.  

On 11 February, The Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors (MAFE) released a statement that  cinema operators are reeling from the effects of the COVID  19 pandemic with estimated losses of up to RM1.3 million a day, accumulating in a total loss of more than RM400 million since last March.

Calls that the government is being short-sighted and imposing double standards on an industry which is a source of escapism and stress relief and the rhetoric surrounding an “unfair treatment towards the industry” as a whole seems to be escalating across the social web. According to Wisesight, the general sentiment among those part of the conversation is that they fear that there will be a demise of cinemas and the local film industry should there be prolonged closures.

According to the CEO of Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC), Koh Mei Lee, the largest Malaysian cinema company is already in the red and continues to bleed with the closures across the country. 

CEO of GSC, Koh Mei Lee

“Over 25% of cinema screens in the country have been closed permanently and the third largest cinema chain, MBO is currently in voluntary creditors liquidation,” Mei Lee told MARKETING Magazine. “The industry is in crisis and we cannot remain closed for longer.”

MAFE has been appealing to the government seeking allowances to operate and for financial assistance, since mid last year. However, Mei Lee says that they have not received any support despite the stringent SOPs they have enforced. 

 “Moreover, cinemas have also invested and increased our expenditures to commit to the safety of audiences with the implementation of thorough and frequent sanitation after every show, PPEs for staff, provisions of alcohol hand rubs, and more,” she said. 

According to a study by Celluloid Junkie, an online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business, it was found that no outbreak of COVID-19 has been detected anywhere across the globe that could be traced to a cinema, multiplex or public screening venue. 

“Many industries such as retail, F&B, service, karaoke,  theme parks, gyms and golf courses have been allowed to reopen, cinemas have been the hardest hit and we have been forced to remain closed throughout the MCOs,” Mei Lee said. “We believe there is a pent-up demand for safe out-of-home entertainment and cinemas provide a form of escapism, especially during these stressful times.”

The long-term closures of cinemas also affect the larger supply chain that serve the entire industry from end-to-end including food, distribution, creatives, content, among others. 

“Our distributor partners share the same disappointment we do, as our closures directly impact them as well, as despite having the content, they are not able to screen it to the public,” Mei Lee added.While many blockbuster films have been postponed by the studios globally, films that have been sourced regionally and locally by independent distributors in Malaysia have also had to be postponed due to our closures.” 

If cinemas are instructed to remain closed much longer, Mei Lee said that the entire Malaysian cinema and film industry will collapse, affecting the livelihoods of more than 12,000 people in the industry comprising film production crew, distributors, talents, and much more.

When asked how the movie industry is reacting to the #BringCinemasBack hashtag trending on social media, Mei Lee said they are thankful and appreciative of the support they have received and she hopes that with the continued support from the public, the government will reconsider their decision to allow them to reopen.

We hope that the government will understand cinemas play a big role in times of distress, providing audiences an affordable and safe venue for escapism, as with theme parks, gyms, and individual sports such as golf, going to the movies helps with mental health in these trying times,” Mei Lee said. 

Source of information: Wisesight

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