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AMC Theatres apologizes for kicking out a civil rights leader for using his own chair

Bishop William J. Barber III speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative September 2023 meeting at New York Hilton Midtown on Sept. 19, 2023.
Noam Galai
Getty Images for Clinton Global
Bishop William J. Barber III speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative September 2023 meeting at New York Hilton Midtown on Sept. 19, 2023.

Updated December 29, 2023 at 12:47 PM ET

Civil rights leader Bishop William J. Barber II and NAACP North Carolina are calling on AMC Theatres to improve accessibility for patrons with disabilities after an incident this week.

Barber, who suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine, was escorted out of an AMC movie theater on Tuesday for bringing in his own chair to watch a showing of The Color Purple with his 90-year-old mother in the accessible section.

"The movie was supposed to be a gift to my mother," Barber said at a press conference Friday.

He added, "But our plans were interrupted when the managers of the AMC theater here in Greenville chose to call the police rather than accommodate my visible disability."

Staff there claimed the chair would create a fire hazard and wouldn't allow Barber to use it. The former NAACP North Carolina chapter president initially refused to leave and theater staff called police before the religious leader voluntarily left with officers.

Barber said he hasn't had any issues with using the chair at other venues.

"My chair has been everywhere," Barber told Religion News. "It's a need that I have because I face a very debilitating arthritic condition."

Because of this condition, Barber can't sit in a wheelchair or in low chairs, he told Religion News.He says he was denied reasonable accommodations at the theater.

The chairman and chief executive of AMC Entertainment Holdings, Adam Aron, has since reached out to Barber and offered to meet with him in Greenville next week.

Following the incident, the NAACP North Carolina State Conference said it serves as a reminder of the need to improve inclusivity for every individual.

"This incident serves as a powerful reminder that we must create spaces that are inclusive, fair, and respectful of the rights of every individual. Discrimination based on physical abilities has no place in our society, and we must take decisive action to address this issue," the organization said in a statement.

The group continued, "While AMC has issued an apology, there is an urgent need for concrete steps to ensure accessibility in all AMC theaters across the nation. The NAACP stands united in our calls for accessibility and justice."

NAACP North Carolina has launched an online petition calling on AMC Theaters to improve accessibility and to adopt lasting changes.

Barber plans to hold a news conference in Greenville on Friday to further address the incident.

NPR's Juliana Kim contributed reporting.

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Corrected: December 28, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
An earlier version of this story said the bishop's name is William J. Barber III. He is William J. Barber II.
Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.