The Emagine Royal Oak theater is planning to reopen on Friday for a weeklong Juneteenth film festival, even though the reopening would violate Governor Gretchen Whitmer's executive order that indoor movie theaters remain closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Whitmer's spokesperson Tiffany Brown said the Governor expects that by July 4th, movie theaters throughout the state may be allowed to open, subject to specific health and safety restrictions. That option is currrently available in only two of eight regions in Michigan.
According to Paul Glantz, chairman of Emagine Entertainment, the company plans to donate net ticket proceeds to the United Negro College Fund. He said the donation will amount to $6.50 for every $10.00 ticket sold.
"I'm familiar with the fact that the Governor has yet to particularly bless the reopening of theaters," said Glantz.
"I think we can demonstrate through our actions that we can both, do good, and we can operate safely. I think this is a good time to lead the industry and demonstrate that we can serve our guests again and in a very healthy manner," he said.
Glantz said the company has put in place protocols to protect the health and safety of employees and movie-goers. The measures include employees wearing masks, taking employee temperatures each day as they arrive at work, social distancing in lines, and seat spacing that allows for 7 feet between unrelated parties.
Glantz said the festival is not a protest. "This is not intended to place a thumb in anyone's eye. It's a time to help reheal wounds and to raise money for important causes."
"Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier has been extraordinarily supportive of our efforts," said Glantz. "And we wouldn't have gone forward without his support."
However Fournier said his support was conditioned on the festival complying with legal requirements.
"When I spoke with Emagine, I told them I liked the idea of moving forward with a Juneteenth event - ONLY if it was in compliance with state and local orders," wrote Fournier in an email. "I do not in any way support 'bucking the law.' However I do support every attempt to elevate the conversation of social justice whereever possible."
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she is "very concerned" to learn of the the theater's plans to reopen.
"I'm going to look further into the situation, and if warranted, we will proceed on enforcement measures," said Nessel. "Obviously we've done it before, and we're willing to do it again. To me, this is about one thing and one thing only, and that is protecting the health, safety, and welfare of our state residents."
"Of course we want to acknowledge Juneteenth and we want to make sure that people understand the great importance of what that event is about," Nessel said. "But I also don't want people to die because they attended this event."
Oakland County and City of Royal Oak officials did not reply to requests for comment.