By RICHARD L. ELDREDGE of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Could a coming-of-age film set at a Southside Atlanta skating rink translate into overtime for mall cops next weekend? That was the not-so-subtle implication of a memo about the upcoming movie "ATL" that was e-mailed this week to seven shopping centers: Perimeter, Cumberland, Discover Mills, NorthPoint, Oglethorpe, Southlake and Augusta malls. In the memo, Valor Security Service Perimeter Mall security director W. Mark Crowell warns: "On March 31, the movie ‘ATL’ will be released in theaters. A theater manager at one of our properties has alerted the mall team that this movie could cause potential behavior problems. The movie trailer indicates that themes in the movie include moral choices and narcotics trafficking … Please appropriately prepare your security staffs for the release of this movie." Valor provides security for the seven malls.
The PG-13 rated comedy-drama about two orphaned brothers who dream of a better future is set against the social backdrop of Sunday nights at a skating rink.
It is loosely based on the childhoods of Atlanta record producer Dallas Austin and TLC singer Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, who serve as producers.
"ATL" stars Atlanta rapper Tip "T.I." Harris, Mykelti Williamson of "Forrest Gump," and character actor Keith David, who was in "Crash" and narrated the Ken Burns PBS documentary "Unforgiveable Blackness: The Story of Jack Johnson."
Warner Bros, the Hollywood studio that produced "ATL," was quick to defend the film Thursday.
In a statement, the studio said: "‘ATL’ celebrates the vibrant culture of the South, particularly the music and energy that emanates from Atlanta. The story follows a group of teenagers as they overcome challenges and discover the importance of friendship, community and personal integrity."
Cascade Family Skating owner Greg Alexander, who was on set for most of the filming at his rink last year, said he is familiar with the film’s content and sees no reason for concern.
"I’m in a business where you can’t survive if you acquire a bad name," Alexander said. "We have the children of some of our original customers coming in now to skate with their families.
"I don’t care how much money someone threw at me, if a film affected my business in a negative way, it would not be shot here.
"Just going by the trailer, maybe someone who is uninformed about certain things might get the wrong idea. They use a lot of the music that the kids like and they show some gold teeth. Maybe someone saw all that, misunderstood and got a little nervous."
"ATL" is rated PG-13 for drug content, language, sexual material and some violence.
The 1-hour 40-minute film, which was screened for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets Wednesday, contains occasional flashes of violence, including a shooting and a fight between brothers.
Antwan Andre Patton plays a drug dealer. Patton is best known as "Big Boi," one half of the Grammy-winning Atlanta pop duo OutKast.
Valor’s Crowell did not return calls for comment Thursday.
David Keating, spokesman for General Growth Properties Inc., the parent company of Cumberland, NorthPoint, Southlake, Oglethorpe, Augusta and Perimeter malls, said the memo was a precaution.
"It certainly wasn’t sent out to discredit the film or anyone associated with it," Keating said.
"It certainly wasn’t meant to target anyone."
Keating said his company had "an incident" about five years ago in relation to another film.
He said he did not recall which film it was and declined to elaborate on the incident.
In a prepared statement, General Growth said: "We regret that the e-mail could be read to imply something that we do not condone, and apologize for any unintended offense it may have caused."