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'Straight Outta Compton' mysteriously absent from Sundial in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — When Straight Outta Compton hits theaters today, Tampa Bay moviegoers can see it from Sarasota to Clearwater to Plant City.

But not in St. Petersburg.

The city's lone multiplex, Muvico Sundial 19, doesn't have the Universal Pictures release on its schedule despite industry analysts pegging it to be No. 1 at the weekend box office, projected to earn $32 million.

It's unclear why the rags-to-riches biopic about five young, black gangsta rap pioneers wasn't booked in St. Petersburg.

Carmike Cinemas, which manages Sundial 19, is showing Straight Outta Compton at other theaters it operates in Palm Harbor, Ybor City and Tampa.

Theater staff confirmed the film isn't showing in St. Petersburg and referred all inquiries to the chain's Columbus, Ga., headquarters. Representatives from Carmike and the Edwards Group, which owns Sundial, did not return multiple telephone requests for comment.

Local leaders, however, are questioning why the movie is available everywhere in Tampa Bay except St. Petersburg.

"St. Petersburg is a diverse community," said City Council member Karl Nurse, who represents one of St. Petersburg's two mostly black districts. "You would hope that the movie theater in town would show a broad spectrum of movies and not black out a movie for reasons I don't understand.

"A third of the city is not white, and you are the only theater in town. Why would you turn that (movie) away?"

Council member Wengay Newton, whose constituency also is chiefly African-American, was concerned by the omission of Straight Outta Compton from the 19-screen theater's lineup. When he learned of the situation, Newton called Carmike's corporate offices for an explanation. His message was not returned as of press time.

"They've always been a good corporate partner, providing jobs for our youth," he said. "This is kind of unusual."

The movie also isn't scheduled to play at Carmike's Royal Palm 20 in Bradenton.

Straight Outta Compton profiles the group N.W.A., which made a name in the 1980s with lyrics reflecting inner-city frustration and anger created by police brutality. Some songs objectified women and romanticized gang culture. One hit track titled F- - - Tha Police raised hackles from Tipper Gore and the FBI.

Because of the volatile subject matter of the movie, the current state of unrest after various unarmed black men have been killed by police and shootings in movie theaters, Universal has offered to reimburse theaters for the cost of extra security for opening weekend if they feel the need to have it, according to the Wall Street Journal and other publications.

Sundial has strong security in place at all times, Nurse said, and has avoided attracting the crowds of restless teenagers that plagued its predecessor, BayWalk. In the 2000s, the shopping plaza's reputation was stained by brawls, gunfire, clashes with police and protesters of all ages.

"It's not a color thing," Nurse said, referring to the younger people who regularly crowded the courtyard. "You've got raging hormones and a lot of energy. If you have a couple thousand kids hanging out late at night, eventually, somebody is going to have some trouble."

The Edwards Group has worked to avoid any such recurrences by bolstering security and razing the building that once enclosed the retail center's courtyard. The Edwards Group does not own the movie theater at the rear of the plaza.

Straight Outta Compton has a strong local connection. One of the movie's executive producers is St. Petersburg native Will Packer, a 1991 St. Petersburg High School graduate. Packer, who is considered one of Hollywood's more successful producers, could not be reached for comment.

Contact Katherine Snow Smith at kssmith@tampabay.com. Follow @snowsmith. Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com. Follow @StevePersall.

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