KATY, Texas (FOX 26) - When we first met Samantha McDivitt at Fox 26, she left us thoroughly inspired—a teen, challenged with multiple disabilities, breaking barriers by rocking the Galveston surf on a board.
Through Waves of Impact, her parents John and Monica have shared the gift with hundreds of special needs kids—a critical step out of segregation and into the world.
But for 16-year-old Sam, that journey has hit a very human roadblock.
"All we wanted to do was have an outing as a family, just like everyone else," said Monica McDivitt, Sam's mother.
It was an outing to the AMC theater at Katy Mills Mall. Once seated, Sam, who is deaf, gradually settled in.
"She was making little humming sounds while she was eating her popcorn, and I didn't think anyone would be bothered by that," said Monica.
But they were bothered. Just eight minutes into the film AMC management intervened saying Sam must be completely silent or leave. In a matter moments, the McDivitt's made their way to the exit.
"When she told me ten people had complained I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe ten people had actually complained," said Monica.
For the McDivitt's and other families living with disabilities, this is where the damage gets done. The hair trigger complaints from paying theater customers with little patience or even a stab at tolerance, hurt and hurt badly. In hope of a teachable moment, Sam's parents are speaking out.
"You would hope that other people would be glad to see that you're not afraid to take your child out and let her experience new things," said John McDivitt, Sam's Dad.
"We just want to be able to do what other people can do with their families," added Monica, her voice cracking with emotion.
Moviegoers we approached readily engaged in the conversation.
"It's individual rights versus public rights and in the end, in this case, public rights have to prevail. Everybody else paid to go see that movie and deserve some quiet," said Syd Waldman.
"I think it’s just absurd that people are so inpatient, unfair and unempathetic," countered Diane Hoops.
The McDivitt's are not upset with AMC, which has offered future accommodation and a private screening.
AMC sent Fox 26 the following statement:
To ensure that all AMC guests can enjoy their movie, we ask that moviegoers respect those around them, and refrain from disruptive behavior. If disruptive behavior occurs, it should be reported to an AMC crew member, who will take the appropriate action. In this case, after receiving guest complaints about disruptive behavior, a manager stepped into the auditorium to observe the situation, identified the disruptive behavior, and then approached the guests, informing them of our no-disruption policy and requesting they leave theatre if they are unable to abide by it, as well as compensating them with a refund and passes. As a follow up to the situation and to ensure they continue to feel welcome at AMC, we’ve also worked directly with this family to ensure they can see their movie in a more relaxed environment.
While AMC enforces a strict no-disruption policy, we believe strongly in everyone having the opportunity to see a movie at the movie theatre. AMC has spent nearly a decade partnering with the Autism Society on Sensory Friendly Films, which is available at multiple AMC locations in the Houston area and provides a more relaxed movie-going environment that encourages guests, many of whom have special needs, to enjoy the movie however they like. A list of locations as well as upcoming Sensory Friendly Films titles can be found at amctheatres.com/SFF.