A major Australian cinema chain said Sunday that it would no longer show a critically acclaimed movie about ethnic-Lebanese gangs at its theaters in Sydney after fighting twice broke out during screenings.
The low-budget independent movie "The Combination," which premiered on Thursday, is spliced with television news footage of an alcohol-fueled rampage at Sydney's Cronulla Beach in 2005 in which thousands of mostly ethnic-European males randomly attacked anyone who appeared to be Middle Eastern.
The attacks triggered two nights of retaliatory violence by carloads of males of Middle Eastern background, shocking the city of 4 million that had prided itself on being a successful multiracial melting pot.
Greater Union announced Sunday that it had canceled screenings of the movie in all four of its Sydney theaters after violent incidents in its suburban Parramatta theater on Thursday and Saturday nights.
"Maintaining the safety and security of our staff and patrons is our main concern and priority," Greater Union general manager Robert Flynn said in a statement.
‘It's a beautiful film’
On Thursday night, a security guard received hospital treatment after he was attacked by 30 young people in the cinema, police said in a statement. The guard had attempted to remove a patron who had broken cinema regulations by smoking.
On Saturday night, police were called when four people began fighting during a screening of the racially inflamed drama in the same cinema, police said.
No arrests were made because in both instances the suspects had left the theater before police arrived.
Movie director David Field said he hoped Greater Union would reconsider.
"It's a beautiful film. It doesn't advocate violence," Field said. "I hope people can calm down and I'm hoping we can find a way to amend the situation."
Keysar Trad, president of Sydney's Islamic Friendship Association, said there was no need to pull the movie.
"This is a society which celebrates free speech and suspending this movie is an infringement of that," Trad said.
The film will continue to show in 27 other cinemas nationwide.
"The Combination" has already grabbed headlines. One of its stars, 19-year-old novice actor Ali Haidar, pleaded guilty Tuesday to assault in a Sydney court and was sentenced to seven months in jail.