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Patrons tweet harrowing experience from Silver Spring during movie showing

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Published on: Thursday, August 22, 2013

By Donna Broadway

SILVER SPRING – It all started with a tweet.

Shortly before 10 a.m. on Aug. 18, movie goer, Tiffany Flowers posted a series of tweets on her twitter account, @msflowerstweets, about armed security being present at the 8:05 p.m. showing of the Lee Daniels and Oprah Winfrey film The Butler at Regal Cinemas Silver Spring.

Flowers, the interim organizing director for the United Food and Commercial Workers, local 400, said in one of the tweets, “The almost entirely black audience of The Butler was subjected to watching the film while armed guards faced the audience. Why?”

The Butler is a period film about the fictionalized Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served several presidents, from the Eisenhower administration to the Regan administration, over 35 years. Although Gaines remained apolitical during his time at the White House, the film depicts several racially tense moments, including an attempted rape of a worker by a cotton planter and the subsequent shooting of her husband, the lynched bodies of two men, school integration, the freedom riders, Bloody Sunday, the Birmingham protests the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 1968 riots.

Flowers was at the theater on a date with Alan Hanson, who is white when the incident occurred.

“We are waiting in line at the auditorium and our tickets are torn and within ten feet away from where our tickets are torn, there is another person waiting at the door, verifying that we have tickets, asking us to show the same tickets that were just torn, so we go and as soon as we get through this barrier, a police officer is standing through the door and is telling everyone they have to go through the right, at the end of the short hallway – there is another officer standing at the end of the short hallway, and there is another police officer standing at the front,” Flowers said.

Flowers said the officers were not in uniform but were wearing all black with their badges around their necks. According to Flowers, she spoke with the manager, who told her the theater contracts with county police. Flowers said she did not see the extra security at other opening movies, including Elysium, and did not complain that night to management about the extra security – instead, she went home. The next day, she logged onto Twitter and began to vent. Flowers never thought the tweets would have as much impact as they have had.

“The next day, I woke up angry and was venting to my friends. At the time, I had 800-something followers, and there were a lot of people I interact with online that I know in real life before now. It has been a medium to interact with actual friends. I wanted people to know what was going on and to be aware of the experience and I put it up because I thought maybe I could get people to call and complain about this, that’s it,” Flowers said. “I didn’t think it would go to the level that it is on. I thought my friends would call the movie theater, maybe, and say ‘I will never go back to Regal.’County Councilmen Hans Riemer and Marc Elrich have weighed in on the issue.

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