The opening of Birmingham's ritzy, remodeled Emagine Palladium movie theater should be a moment of celebration. Unfortunately, it has been marred by a discriminatory policy that bans most teenagers from the premises.
Although federal law is silent when it comes to discrimination against youth, Michigan's civil-rights law prohibits public accommodations such as movie theaters from discriminating based on the age of their patrons. This means that the Palladium's new policy almost certainly violates Michigan law.
The ACLU of Michigan has taken notice and, in a letter today, is calling on the Palladium to change its policy.
Not only does the age-discriminatory policy violate the law, it also sends the wrong message to youth.
According to a Detroit Free Press news report, the ban on teenagers was instituted after a few teens allegedly caused a disruption by speaking loudly during a movie, disturbing other patrons. In other words, based on misconduct by a few individuals who happened to be teenagers, the theater has stereotyped all young people as troublemakers and now deems that group unwelcome.
Isn't this exactly what we teach our kids never to do? If we, as adults, mistreat entire groups of people based on negative stereotypes, what kind of message are we sending to our kids?
We can do better. The Palladium can do better. And if young people are not themselves victims of unfair stereotyping, they will also do better.
To make matters worse, the Palladium has coupled the age discrimination with wealth discrimination. Although the theater is open to the general public, special perks are offered to those who purchase a "platinum membership" for $350 per year. And when it comes to the ban on teenagers, membership makes a big difference. If a young person's family has paid the $350 membership fee, their child is exempt from the ban on youth.
So, teenagers from wealthy families can be trusted at the movies, whereas youth from less affluent backgrounds cannot? Surely even Birmingham has progressed past such senseless elitism.
There are also some more disturbing connotations to this policy. The wealthier suburbs of Detroit (including Birmingham) have a long history of being perceived as unwelcoming to residents of Detroit and its less affluent suburbs, with racial segregation playing a significant part of that history. Even if the purpose and intent behind the Palladium's policy has nothing to do with these issues, a Birmingham business cannot exclude young people based on family wealth without calling that history to mind.
Please join the ACLU of Michigan in telling the Palladium that the kids are all right. And we hope the kids will be welcome back there soon.