AMC Entertainment Holdings said on Friday that moviegoers would be required to wear masks at the company’s theaters when they reopen next month, reversing its position a day after comments by the chief executive prompted a backlash from customers.
“As we reopen theaters, we now will require that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theaters,” the company said in a statement.
The reversal came a day after Adam Aron, chief executive of the company, said in an interview with Variety magazine that masks would not be required, and that the company made that decision because “we did not want to be drawn into a political controversy.”
“We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary,” he told Variety.
Mr. Aron had also said that AMC Theaters, the largest movie theater operator in the world, would not perform temperature checks on patrons, a practice some businesses have adopted to screen for fever related to the coronavirus. The company had already announced this month that patrons might be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks but that face coverings would be mandatory for all employees, a point that Mr. Aron reiterated in the interview.
The company on Friday acknowledged “an intense and immediate outcry” from customers that made it clear “that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks.” It said it would supply a mask for $1 to any customer who did not have one. Those who are unwilling to wear a mask will not be admitted or allowed to stay, it said.
The backlash was evident and swift on social media soon after the Variety story published on Thursday.
“How is public health ‘political?’” one person wrote on Twitter.
“Then I’m out!” appeared on another Twitter account. “You should be protecting your customers. Follow the science.”
The decision not to wear a mask in public has, for some, become a symbol in a fight against what they see as attacks on their personal freedom. Enforcement has often fallen on retail and other front-line workers, and some of them have gotten hurt.
A conservative activist who is an ardent supporter of President Trump’s was barred from flying on American Airlines on Thursday, one day after he had been removed from a plane because he refused to wear a mask on board.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, retweeted a message from Gov. Gavin Newsom of California on Thursday evening stating that Californians were required to wear masks in public. The tweet also said: “The science is unanimous — if we all wear masks, we slow down the spread and can reopen safely. It’s not a political issue. Anyone making it a political issue is an absolute moron who can’t read.”
Two of AMC’s major competitors, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, say on their websites that guests will be required to wear masks only where local governments mandate them. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema said on Friday that it would require masks in its theaters, saying the safety of patrons and workers could not be compromised. “This is not political,” the theater chain said in a tweet.
AMC said Thursday that it would open about 450 of its United States theaters on July 15, with auditorium capacity capped at 30 percent (or less, where mandated by local health officials). Another 150 locations will reopen by July 24 to coincide with the release of Disney’s live-action “Mulan,” the first big-budget movie scheduled to come out of Hollywood since March.
Mr. Aron said in the Variety interview that AMC had chosen not to rush to reopen.
“There were some jurisdictions in some states, such as Georgia and Texas, that allowed people to reopen theaters in mid-May,” he said. “We opted to remain closed, so we could give the country time to get a better handle on coronavirus.”
Christine Hauser, Mihir Zaveri, Neil Vigdor and Brooks Barnes contributed reporting.