The owner of the movie theatre has denied all allegations of discrimination.
Toronto actress, Wendy Olunike Adeliyi, says she was discriminated against at an independent Toronto movie theatre after being denied entry over a dispute initially about the permission of her backpack.
Adeliyi later wrote a detailed account of her experience on Facebook, saying that the owner called Toronto Police and said, “There’s a threatening black woman we want removed.”
Adeliyi, who is known for her roles in the TV shows like Flashpoint, Republic of Doyle, and CBC’s Workin’ Moms, visited the Kingsway Theatre on Bloor Street West on March 3 to see the movie Loving. She says it all started when she was told she would not be sold a ticket unless she left her backpack outside the auditorium.
The Kingsway Theatre has a no bag policy to avoid customers bringing in food and alcohol. Adeliyi says she offered to have them search her belongings to prove that she was carrying neither.
She was unwilling to part with her bag because, she says, she was carrying expensive, personal possessions, and she was not presented with a lock-up policy that would ensure her items were kept safe.
After the floor manager selling tickets refused to search her bag, Adeliyi says, she asked to speak with another supervisor.
“The female at the counter had no interest in helping. She wanted me out of the line,” says Adeliyi.
No backpack rules can be considered inherently discriminatory and likely unenforceable. Does the business also ban purses, large pockets, or coats? Is the policy applied equally? “It falls under the larger category of apparently neutral rules that have a disproportionately negative impact on an identifiable and marginalized group,” says Toronto human rights lawyer Lisa Amin. In this case, young people, and people who are racialized.
After briefly leaving the theatre, Adeliyi returned to press further about her admission into the movie.
The incident soon escalated and the owner of the theatre, Rui Pereira, was called to address the situation. That’s when Pereira called police and allegedly described Adeliyi as “threatening” in his description.
“I was discriminated against in the form of a call that they made to the police,” said Adeliyi. “I never raised my voice. I was very assertive. I can’t understand how he could equate that with threatening… I was being racially profiled.”
Toronto Police media relations officer Victor Kwong confirmed that they received a call classified as an unwanted guest—someone refusing to leave. No charges or arrests were made.
Adeliyi says labeling someone as being a threat is especially dangerous for Black men and women who have been killed, in part, because of such descriptions.
“My skin is not threatening,” says Adeliyi.
Pereira says Adeliyi was “belligerent” and “abusive” to staff. He is denying that race was a factor in the incident, calling the allegations a “false narrative.”
“That never happened… I never even got to the fact that she was a black woman. I didn’t see her that way. I saw her as just another human,” says Pereira. “The reason the police were called wasn’t because her skin is dark… police were called because she wouldn’t leave and that would have been applied to anyone else.”
Pereira says he has since received considerable backlash online with people calling him a racist and pushing for a boycott of the theatre.
A Facebook account allegedly associated with Rui Pereira responded to Adeliyi’s allegations in a post after the incident occurred. The post referred to Adeliyi as having a “personal neurosis,” and warned that she would be arrested if she entered the Kingsway Theatre.
Pereira confirmed that he sent Adeliyi a message on Facebook, telling her to never come back to the premises. He added that even if she was compliant with the rules in the future, she is still not welcomed.
In an online post, Adeliyi offered to have a conversation with Pereira to come to a “peaceful solution,” but he says he has no intention of speaking with her.
Meanwhile, the floor manager who enforced the no backpack rule has published her own account this week on Reddit, in which she disputes much of Adeliyi’s story.
“I explained that if she would not comply I would not be able to sell her a ticket. I also explained that if I can’t sell you a ticket then you have no reason to remain planted here, and it’s best if you leave the theatre. She remained obstinate that she would see the show regardless at which point I told her more clearly to leave. Miss Adeliyi then identified herself as an actress, and as someone who is active on Twitter, and has many friends and followers. She told me she has friends, and will bring down the name of the theatre,” the floor manager states in her online post.
Adeliyi says she would like to see the theatre’s bag policy be revised. But this situation is about more than just a bag, adding that many people have come forward this week and complained online about their personal experiences with the theatre in the past.
She says, “The community spoke and they want changes and that is what this is about. My particular case is about how I was treated also based on my race and that was not fair, especially going to see a movie like Loving.”
Pereira says the incident has made him out to be a “villain.” He says coming from an immigrant Portuguese family, the criticisms that he has faced have made him feel as though he does not belong in this country.