February 6, 2002

Schwarzenegger Film Opens Amid Controversy

Schwarzenegger arrives for screening.  

Arnold Schwarzenegger's action film "Collateral Damage," about a Los Angeles firefighter who goes to Colombia to avenge his wife and son's deaths, premiered in New York City last night amid controversy.

Community groups criticized the movie for what they claim are negative stereotypes of Colombians, while police and fire unions raised concerns that an appearance by Rudolph Giuliani at the movie's Zeigfeld Theatre gala could be construed as using the Sept. 11 tragedy to promote the Warner Bros. film.

Giuliani, who on Wednesday watched an advance screening of the film with former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, said union criticism is premature. "Let's see the movie before criticizing it," he said outside the Ziegfield Theatre.

"I'm very supportive of Arnold Schwarzenegger," the former mayor added. Giuliani said Schwarzenegger personally donated $1 million and helped raise an additional $4 million for families of rescue officials killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Schwarzenegger also attended Wednesday's screening, but did not speak to reporters.

In an initial press release promoting the screening, Warner Bros. said Giuliani would appear "in association with the Twin Towers Fund and Twin Towers Board." Giuliani set up the fund last year for the families of firefighters and police lost in the attacks.

Warner Bros. issued a new statement Wednesday, clarifying that Giuliani and the staff of the Twin Towers Fund were invited to the screening as guests, and not as sponsors.

Fund president Larry Levy said the actor, who is a member of the Twin Towers board, also had donated 650-700 tickets for firefighters, city police, Port Authority police and EMS employees.

Levy, however, denied that the invites to Giuliani and the firefighters were a way to promote the movie. He noted that Schwarzenegger had donated $1 million to the Twin Towers Fund and had been active in fundraising activities.

He also said Schwarzenegger, shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, had visited several firehouses in Brooklyn that had lost firefighters at the World Trade Center and also had comforted grieving relatives at the Family Assistance Center.

"He wanted them (the uniformed personnel) to be his guests, to see his movie," Levy said in an interview. "He plans to speak about the great respect and admiration he has, both for what they did on Sept. 11, and in general."

Two union officials, however, said they believed the plans for the opening could be viewed as exploitive.

"While we have nothing against Mr. Schwarzenegger and his movie, we consider it exploitive and in bad taste to promote the film by associating it with the tragedy of Sept. 11," Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in a statement. A PBA spokesman said he would not elaborate on Lynch's statement.

A similar comment was made by Pete Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. In a statement released by a spokesperson, Gorman said: "It saddens us anytime a tragedy is used to promote something like a movie."

The movie also was criticized by a group of community groups representing Colombians in the city.

At a news conference scheduled for today, organizers said the groups felt the film supported stereotypes of Colombians as drug dealers and terrorists. In the film, the main character's wife and son are killed in a bomb attack carried out by Colombian drug dealers.

A statement issued by the groups asks Warner Bros. to issue a disclaimer before the movie begins to avoid what they see as negative stereotyping.