This one is something a little bit unusual in these parts. Regular ScreenAnarchy writer Dave Canfield called me last week incredibly excited because he had just landed himself some passes to see a far-in-advance screening of Tim Burton's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Canfield is a big time Burton fan, as am I, so he was pretty much ecstatic that he had the chance to see the film early.
I received a much different call from him on Saturday, right around the time he should have been sitting in the theater enjoying the picture. Dave, his wife, and two friends - all of whom had been invited by the PR company running the screening and all of whom had valid tickets for the event - were turned away at the door because the friends Canfield went to the film with are goths and dress the part.
A bit of irony, there ... people being turned away from a Tim Burton film because they like to wear dark clothing and the odd bit of makeup. Go figure. I'm frankly astounded that a professional PR company could botch sonmething like this up so badly. Do they not, in the first place, have some sort of clue just who Burton's fans are? And do they not realize just how incredibly ignorant it is to refuse people admittance to ANYTHING based purely on style of dress when you invited them there in the first place?
Read on for Dave's letter to Tim relating the situation in full detail ... the man was far more calm about things than I would have been in that situation ...
Hello, my name is Dave Canfield, a contributor to www.screenanarchy.com. As a long time fan of your films I’m writing to express concern and sadness about the way your new film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is being marketed.
As you know two special screenings were just held in Chicago, Illinois at the AMC River East 21 Theater. A friend who was able to attend even heard you were there. Wish I could have said the same.
A few days ago, at a promotional screening of Unleashed, a friend of mine (Scott Shaw, pictured here) and I were approached by a representative of the marketing firm in charge of promoting the Charlie screening: Nielsen NRG - A VNU Company. He offered both of us a letter but Scott and I, realizing each was good for four tickets, only took one which was all we needed to attend with our wives.
Scott Shaw | Rachel Shaw
As you can see from the picture of Scott he is obviously a Goth. He was dressed as such when approached.
We immediately called in our reservation. To say we were grateful is an understatement.
We went home and told our wives the exciting news and on Saturday left for the theater.
My wife and I don’t get out much. Our five year old is emotionally troubled and it can be difficult to find - much less pay for - sitters. We certainly can’t afford to treat friends to a night out very often.
Here are pictures of how we were dressed.
Dave and Harmony Canfield | Scott and Rachel Shaw
We waited in line approximately an hour and a half during which two separate representatives of Nielsen NRG approached us and spoke to us directly. The first representative asked us (and everyone else in line, one at a time) if we had camera phones. The second rep came by about half an hour later, smiled, handed us four tickets and said, “Enjoy the show.”
This is where it gets interesting.
This is where it gets disturbing.
When they started letting people in a man, who later identified himself as Peter Larkin, an employee of Nielsen NRG, took my ticket. But as I made my way to the escalator I noticed my wife Harmony and two friends, Scott and Rachel Shaw, were standing off to the side. Motioning them to hurry up they shook their heads and pointed at Peter.
I asked him what was up. “This is not a costumed event.” he replied.
“A costumed event?” I said, “These people are Goths, they dress this way every day.”
“Well,” says Pete, “This is my event, a private party and they aren’t getting in.”
“Are you telling me,” I said, “that you are not allowing them to attend this event because they look different? That’s blatant discrimination.”
“Look I’ll get you tickets to anything else you want,” says Pete.
“This is a Tim Burton movie, for crying out loud! What is the problem?” says I.
Pete scurried off to find passes for whatever else we wanted while everyone else in line filed by, clearly amused at our plight. By the time he got back we were in no mood to be placated. Needless to say we declined his offer feeling that it was pretty clear he just wanted to cover up his public humiliation of us - intended or not. We tore up the tickets and left as he called for security. I think I said something to the crowd behind us like, “Don’t expect to see a Tim Burton movie if you’re a Goth. So much for the land of the free and the brave.”
I apologize for that. I just wanted to see Peter Larkin squirm a little. Maybe he was just doing his job but in my opinion he did it badly.
I should probably mention at this point that my wife, who as you can see in the picture is clearly not a Goth, had been pulled out of the crowd when it became clear she’d come with Scott and Rachel and told she wouldn’t be allowed to attend either. Guess it doesn’t pay to have the wrong sort of friends.
Scott and Rachel Shaw are two of the quietest, nicest, most respectful people I know. Unlike many Goths that take it out on the world for getting picked on or laughed at they take it in stride. To know them is to love them - even if you think they’re a little weird.
Tim, look at the picture of Scott and Rachel. My friends didn’t have any axe to grind. They don’t even look that odd. Scott wasn’t wearing anything all that distracting. Mr. Larkin could simply have asked him to remove his cloak and he would have blended in fine with the rest of the audience. It was cold outside so he wore his cloak. I know Scott and he doesn’t own a ‘regular’ coat - just the cloak.
But Scott wasn’t given the opportunity to take off his cloak - he was treated like an embarrassment in spite of the fact that Nielsen NRG approached HIM about attending this event.
It isn’t so much that we didn’t get to attend the film that night (although we were invited, waited an hour and a half and given tickets) as it was having two of my friends - big Tim Burton fans - publicly humiliated simply because they - like the protagonists in so many of your films - are different. They didn’t fit in to the white bread, bland, vanilla culture Peter Larkin was clearly interested in tapping into.
I don’t mean that as a dig at the other folks in line. But wasn’t Marilyn Manson supposed to star in this thing? Be that true or not didn’t Depp model his performance around Manson? Isn’t this a darker take on the story?
Polite, respectful, INVITED Goths not allowed into a Tim Burton Film - is there anything else to say?
I would guess you are under a lot of pressure right now what with a new film coming out. I’m certainly not implying that Peter Larkin spoke for you - in fact I believe the opposite is true. It’s my job to forgive but it’s Nielsen NRG’s job to represent you.
I’m publishing this, Tim, mainly because I would really like to see something happen as a result. And I wanted to make sure you saw it.
Doing My Part To Keep America’s Film Culture From Devolving Into What America’s Music Culture Already Has
If any of you reading this have the urge to write Nielsen NRG you can find all the relevant contact information here. (Apparently, the contact info on that page is currently invalid. Someone has posted two other emails that seem to be working in the comments section at around comment #22). However, if you do so and you actually want someone to read your letter and take it seriously I would very strongly recommend that you keep it civil and polite. Getting personal, while it may be entertaining, is counter productive.
*** UPDATE ***
We've just gotten a response to this letter from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory screenwriter John August which you can view here.