Abdul Samey Honaryar, an asylee and former translator for the U.S. military, loved to go to the movies in New York City—something he was denied as a child growing up in Afghanistan after his local theaters were destroyed, he said.
But what started as a typical Saturday night out to the movies to see a blockbuster horror film ended in a different kind of horror: a slam when a company security guard pushed and dragged Honaryar out of the theater, through two swinging doors and a sign, and, he said, left him fearing for his life after seeing the guard reach for his weapon.
Now, Honaryar is suing AMC theaters for discrimination and assault.
“It's not something that you really recover from easily and forget about it the next day when you wake up and say, ‘Oh, it is another day, let's go move on with my life,’” Honaryar told The Daily Beast.
“I never, you know, thought in a million years that will happen in United States,” he added
Honaryar began serving as a translator for the U.S. military in Kabul—where he received glowing recommendations from those who worked with him, but whose work also put him at great personal risk, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday morning.
And starting in 2010, he found himself repeatedly in the crosshairs of the Taliban.
He survived multiple assassinations attempts—from being sideswiped in oncoming traffic, to being dragged through the street and beaten, to having his family threatened and father shot—all in retaliation for helping U.S. soldiers, according to the lawsuit.
Honaryar finally decided to flee in 2014: first to India, then to Mexico and eventually, the United States, where he was trapped for a year in immigration detention, according to reporting by Law360.
“I cannot take it anymore,” Honaryar told The New York Times in 2016. “I served this country. I risked my life for this country, and this is how I’m repaid.”
It wasn’t until a journalist and a pro-bono law firm jumped to his aid that he was finally freed on appeal, according to an article by Law360, and allowed to live freely in the country he nearly died for on multiple occasions.
“That is, until January 7, 2023,” read the suit.
The suit claimed that on that day, the former translator, 42, and his girlfriend, 45, scanned their tickets to see the movie—M3GAN, Honaryar told The Daily Beast.
They were using tickets from the AMC Stubs A-List program, a subscription service provided by the theater that allows holders to go to the movies up to three times a week for a flat fee but requires them to show ID.
The couple were requested to show IDs “after their tickets had already been scanned and only after Mr. Samey made a comment to his girlfriend during which his accent was audible,” read the suit. (AMC did not respond to a request for comment on this claim.)
When his girlfriend—an immigrant and U.S. Citizen according to the complaint—realized she had left hers at home, an attendant told them that they would not be able to watch the movie together.
“The A-List program policies allow moviegoers to produce other forms of ID, but the AMC Attendant offered no such option, contrary to AMC policy,” read the suit, filed in Manhattan’s Supreme Court. “Instead, AMC selectively enforced a non-existent hard copy identification policy because of Plaintiff’s race, accent, and national origin”
When Honaryar asked why they were being treated differently, he said they were told nothing could be done. When he asked to speak with a supervisor, the attendant said she was the supervisor, according to the suit.
Honaryar claimed that they had not previously been asked to see their ID despite being long-time members of the theater’s A-List subscription service.
“There were plenty of steps AMC could have taken that did not involve assault,” his lawyer, Shane Seppinni, told The Daily Beast.
Things quickly escalated when the attendant called over a guard, the suit says.
“They don’t understand what I’m saying. They don’t know how we do things around here,” the lawsuit claims the attendant shouted to the security guard.
After more back and forth, the security guard began to push Honaryar in the chest, according to the suit.
“You cannot push me—I’ve done nothing wrong,” the suit claims he said, before stepping away towards his girlfriend.
Then the guard said, “I can do whatever I want,” before he pushed him again and then “assaulted Mr. Honaryar so aggressively that he could smell and feel the AMC Security’s foul breath,” according to the lawsuit.
Video obtained by The Daily Beast shows a security guard shoving Honaryar through a door and out into the atrium of AMC’s Flushing Meadows 7 theater before grabbing him by the scruff of his jacket and slamming him through a sign, causing him to fall to the floor.
After Honaryar falls, the security guard seems to reach towards his hip. According to the lawsuit, Honaryar believed him to be reaching for a gun or “other deadly weapon.”
“You saw—you see that right?” Honaryar gestures towards the person filming the scene.
According to Honaryar, he was scared for his life.
“There are people like me who … get damaged on the way emotionally or physically to reach themselves to this country,” Honaryar told The Daily Beast by phone.
Honaryar said that when he or others come to this country, “they come with a hope” that they will live a happy, different life to what they fled.
“They don't think that they come here and they will get harmed, but for watching the movie or … be threatened with a deadly weapon.”
AMC spokesperson Ryan Noonan wrote in a statement that it is theater policy to check IDs for A-List tickets. And, he said a report filed by staff reflected that “the guest became hostile toward AMC theater staff and on-site security, and refused to leave the premises.”
Noonan did not respond to requests for video footage or the report.
“If AMC's defense is that they assaulted Samey because he's an ‘A-Lister’ then we like our chances at trial,” Seppinni shot back by text to The Daily Beast on Monday night.
Honaryar told the Daily Beast that AMC was the first movie theater he ever went to in the United States after he was finally granted asylum in 2017.
Once he was free and finally living in New York City, he enjoyed going to the movies, he told The Daily Beast, which made him “forget about the past.”
As someone who studied art, his favorite movie was Avatar, he told The Daily Beast.
Now, things have changed.
“It bothers me when I pass the Long Island Expressway. That's right by the highway. I swear to you, it makes me feel bad, it makes me feel like I kinda lose the joy of that time when I passed by that movie theater and I see the sign... and it reminds me of all those things that happened.”
According to Honaryar’s lawyer, he was never arrested—but he went to the hospital to treat unspecified injuries from the fall, and called the police.
The NYPD would not share the report from that day, asking instead that The Daily Beast submit a Freedom of Information Law request.