On Christmas day my daughter and I went to a 4:30 movie at the Bethesda Row Cinema in Maryland and thought we’d be two of a handful of non-Christians left to wander a near-empty theater in search of the very best seats. In fact, the place was as crowded as a cattle pen, with people everywhere clamoring for wine and artisan coffee in the newly renovated movie house. Having thought at the last minute to buy our tickets online, we were able to find seats easily enough, though we didn’t have to look very hard. It turns out they had been assigned to us—as they would have been had we gone out for a night at the opera.
Bethesda is ranked as one of the wealthiest and most highly educated communities in the nation. Located just outside Washington, DC, it is also 83 percent white, and the theater audience was a reflection of that statistic—with only one person of color standing out as I scanned the crammed rows of Caucasians.
I’m not sure if assigned seating at tony movie theaters is a new trend, but it worries me. Bethesda Row has long been one of the few places in the DC Metro Area to show independent and foreign films. Now, the theater will be even less accessible and welcoming to a more general and diverse audience than it was before, since people who don’t know to buy their tickets online (or who don’t have access to computers so they can do so) will most likely find that many movies will have been sold out by the time they get to the box office. If we can’t have easy access to thoughtful, well-written, well-acted movies, how else can we prevent ourselves from becoming the zombies and vampires that currently grace the commercial silver screen?