Meet the New York Lawmaker Pushing Gov. Cuomo to Reopen Movie Theaters

The entertainment industry has turned its focus on Albany, N.Y., over the last week, as it escalates the pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow movie theaters to reopen.

Inside the Capitol, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy has also been rallying support for the industry. On Sept. 3, she wrote a letter to Cuomo arguing that theaters could reopen safely. Since then, she has not heard anything, and she is not optimistic about a reopening any time soon.

“It’s been quiet, which is discouraging,” Fahy tells Variety. “We have done everything in our power to try to push this case.”

The National Association of Theatre Owners has lobbyists in Albany who are also pleading with the governor’s office. The industry argues that without guidelines for a reopening in New York, major studios will not release tentpole films. That’s potentially ruinous for an industry that depends on superhero movies and franchise fare to draw crowds.

“Wonder Woman 1984″ is currently set for Christmas Day, but there are worries that it could be pushed back if it cannot open in the nation’s media capital. Decisions made in Albany can ripple around the world, postponing releases overseas as well as nationwide.

Fahy, a Democrat from Albany, looks at the issue from the perspective of struggling small towns in Upstate New York, where theaters can provide an anchor for a shopping mall or a retail district.

“They often are an economic driver in our rural main streets,” she argues. “We are now more than six months into this. I believe we are hurting our local economies.”

Fahy cites the Madison Theatre, a historic venue in her neighborhood that just reopened in December 2019 after being shuttered for two years. The new owners renovated it and transformed it into a dine-in venue, with a full bar. The theater was in business for three months before the pandemic forced it to close again.

“They don’t know how long they can hang on,” she says.

Fahy also says streaming movies at home is not an adequate replacement for going out to a show.

“I’m not one to stream. I just don’t. If I’m going to watch a movie, I personally think it’s nice to go out,” she says. “Human beings are social animals. If this continues, it will have long-term damage to the industry, but also to our socialization of who we are and what we are.”

In her letter to Cuomo — which was signed by 16 other lawmakers — Fahy argued that theaters are safer than restaurants, which have been allowed to reopen for indoor dining with reduced capacity.

Over the last week, the state has been dealing with spikes in infections in Brooklyn and Queens, which have been tied to the Orthodox Jewish communities there. That may make state officials even more reluctant to consider further reopening.

“We have always said we want this to be done safely,” Fahy says. “I am not recommending the theaters open in those hotspots. But we have many counties with less than .5% infection rates. … With winter, we will see some uptick in the rates. But we lost an entire summer here. I do think this has been unfortunate. I don’t think it’s been as fair to the movie theater owners.”

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