LOS ANGELES -- Some film critics and youth counselors say "New Jack City," a film about urban gang violence that touched off fights at movie theaters around the country a week ago, exploits the anger and suppressed violence of young people in inner cities.
Both Warner Brothers, which released the film, and its director and star, Melvin Van Peebles, defended the film, saying it carried an anti-drug, anti-violence message. The movie, also starring Wesley Snipes, is based on the true story of the rise and fall of a drug dealer in Harlem.
In it's first week in release, the film's mixture of energetic music and fast-paced action drew large crowds, grossing an impressive $7 million in receipts on only 862 screens.
Showings were accompanied by violence in a number of cities, including Las Vegas, Chicago and Sayreville, N.J., as well as Los Angeles and New York. In some cases, including the rampage involving 1,500 people in Los Angeles, crowds reacted angrily after being turned away from overbooked screenings.
The violence recalled similar incidents at showings of the films "Colors" and "The Warriors," both about gangs.
Some critics also compared the incidents to violence that sometimes accompanies concerts of rock music, particularly rap music.
"I think we've finally reached the point where screen violence is so graphic and extreme that spontaneous imitations like these are inevitable," said Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at Johns Hopkins University.
The need to outdo competitors constantly, he said, "has necessitated a level of violence that certainly would have amazed people even as recently as 10 years ago, but which now has become routine."