During a Sunday afternoon screening of “Black Swan” at the Whitney Humanities Center, an unidentified elderly man repeatedly clapped disruptively and subsequently performed what witnesses described as a Nazi salute.
The man reportedly stood up and began clapping about halfway into the 108 minute-long movie. The man, who audience members said sat near the front row, made strange hand gestures in front of the screen — including raising fingers to represent numbers — and eventually performed a silent Nazi salute before briefly leaving the theater, four eyewitnesses told the News.
Yonatan Zeff ’18 said he witnessed the man repeatedly clap loudly and spontaneously, extend his arm in a Nazi salute and then exit the theater temporarily.
“I saw the Hitler salute. It was very obvious and clear what he was doing, and it was really uncomfortable to see,” Zeff said. “Then he left, and I was hoping he left, period. But he came back about 10 minutes later.”
Chris Halsted, a Yale Police Department patrol sergeant on duty, told the News early Monday morning that police are investigating the incident.
William Nixon ’19, another attendee, also said he saw a man stand up roughly 20 minutes before the end of the movie and perform a Nazi salute. The man then left the theater but later returned to his seat, Nixon said.
He added that the man appeared to be either drunk or mentally ill.
One student in the audience said “F – – k you” to the man once he initiated the gesture, according to Alexander Bailey ’17, who attended the screening.
“It was frightening,” Bailey said of the gesture. “I had a moment of ‘Oh Sh-t’ seeing that sort of thing being real rather than being idiots on Twitter … I’m not saying that this guy was involved with the alt-right, because neither of us knows that and it would be idiotic to say anything like that, but that was just the immediate connection for me.”
Rebecca Karabus ’18, a student assistant at the Yale Film Center and Online Editor for the News, said she reported the man to the police as he was exiting the theater.
The theater’s darkness made it hard for many in the audience to get a clear view of the man. According to attendees interviewed, his clapping routine followed scenes from the movie — about a troubled ballerina’s stage career — in which the main character receives applause. The screening’s attendees estimated that the man interrupted the film three to four times with his clapping.
“It was amusing at first and then as the movie went on it got kind of annoying,” said attendee Kristina Cuello ’20, with regard to the clapping.
Cuello added that she did not personally witness the gesture, but she said the people sitting around her in the theater were noticeably distracted by him and were not paying attention to the movie.
The screening was part of the “Treasures from the Yale Film Archive” series, a Yale Film Study Center program that is free and open to the public. According to estimates from audience members interviewed, the screening was attended by roughly 50 people, around one-fifth of whom were non-Yale students.