Watch This Med Student Get Harassed at the Movies Because of 'What Happened in Paris'

Watch This Med Student Get Harassed at the Movies Because of 'What Happened in Paris'EXPAND
Courtesy of Christian Alexander Pean

When Christian Alexander Pean walked into the AMC movie theater at 84th and Broadway in the late afternoon on Sunday to see The Martian, he had to kill time before his friend showed up with the tickets. So he pulled out his phone to text friends and possibly read some reviews of the film. Tapping away while he waited, a middle-aged white man in a black turtleneck approached him.

"This guy comes up to me out of nowhere,” Pean recalls. "He gets about a foot and a half away from me and says, ‘What are you doing here?' " Pean, 28, figured he might've been an AMC employee. He replied that he was simply waiting for a friend. The man raised his voice. Pean soon realized he was a fellow patron.

Then, getting louder, the man said: "You know what happened in Paris."

"He had an accent,” says Pean. “It sounded French, so at first I thought he wanted to talk about what had just happened in Paris." But the man quickly expressed that he felt threatened — by Pean, a fourth-year medical student at Mount Sinai who grew up in Texas. He’s a U.S. citizen whose lineage traces to Haiti and Mexico.

" 'Guys like you texting and standing,' " Pean recalls the man saying. " 'It’s very suspicious.' " The man then demanded that Pean stop texting, asked him what he was texting, and mentioned that he was there with his daughter. At one point, he reached toward Pean’s jacket and motioned for him to open it.

"I was so shocked, my first instinct was to reassure him," says Pean, who has found himself at the center of racially charged encounters before. "I started to tell him I was a medical student, that I'm American, I’m Catholic — "

But Pean stopped himself. 

"If I were a law-abiding citizen of Muslim faith standing there texting, I’d have every right to [do so] in a public space," he says. "It struck a chord with me and made me realize so many innocent people get targeted like this every day. How dare he make assumptions about me?"

Pean began videotaping the man.

"If he’s going to make me feel this uncomfortable, he’s going to have to explain himself on camera," Pean reasoned. He asked the man why he wanted him to stop texting and whether he, Pean, somehow looked suspicious — as seen in the video, the man nods his head yes.

In the clip, Pean tells the man, "You shouldn’t let them, with their bombings in Paris, make you afraid of someone like me." But the man cuts Pean off, saying, "Better safe than sorry." The exchange continues for what Pean says was "an agonizing ten minutes — he kept staring at me, saying, 'Stop texting, stop texting' and came very close to assaulting me."

Pean posted the video to Facebook, where it quickly got passed around, having been watched, at press time, more than 7,000 times. "Next time, I hope you pause, and use some common sense instead of frightening everyone, including your daughter and me, so that you can feel 'safe,' " he wrote, addressing the man, who never gave his name. The comments on the post have been overwhelmingly supportive.

Pean acknowledges that following the horror of the attacks in Paris, it is understandable that mounting fear and outrage should emerge. But attitudes of discrimination, particularly toward anyone with an ethnically ambiguous background, are unwarranted and detrimental.

"It’s so twisted and sad, because he’s probably like so many people in this country," says Pean. "Hopefully, people who feel the need to react this way will think twice and take into consideration that we’re all scared, we’re all human, and most of us are American, too."

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >